Last Thursday Justice Rodney Hansen sentenced Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara to two and a half years in prison. Iti and Kemara were found guilty of six firearms charges and not guilty of four. The jury could not decide on whether or not the pair were guilty on the criminal group charge.
The response from Maori was rapid and universal – it was a bullshit sentence. In a break from the orthodox, Maori MPs slammed the decision. Hone Harawira pointed out that:
The judge simply picked the worst bits out of 67,000 pages of evidence to justify the most extreme interpretation of events.
It's a waste of time having a jury trial if the judge can retry the case at sentencing ... by vindicating the actions of the police the state has made political prisoners out of them both.
Te Ururoa Flavell expressed a similar sentiment:
This was never just about the charges or the offences.
This was about Tuhoe and the mess caused in the lead-up to this sentencing.
Mr Flavell says the harsh sentence was intended to cover up the botched case.
And David Clendon from the Greens had this to say:
The sentences handed down to Mr Iti and Mr Kemara are at the steep end of the scale.
New Zealand already has an expanded prison population and I fail to see what will be achieved by incarcerating Mr Iti and Mr Kemara.
By convention, politicians don’t criticise judicial decision. So, with that in mind, it’s significant that Justice Hansen’s decision has met universal public criticism from Maori MPs. To me, the political response is indicative of the anger many Maori feel against the decision.
Annette Sykes thinks it’s a case of history repeating itself and, I think, that’s hard to argue against:
The decision today is a case of history repeating itself. In 1916 Tuhoe Prophet Rua Kenana was found not guilty for treason by a jury. Despite the verdict, the judge concerned found him guilty of resisting arrest and sentenced him to one year hard labour, followed by 18 months imprisonment. The jury were so incensed over the harshness of the sentence, they submitted a petition and had the sentence reduced.
Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria, much like their tipuna Rua Kenana, have been wrongfully imprisoned and their sentence will be subject to a number of appeals.
Leonie Pihama calls Iti and Kemara “political prisoners”. Support is also coming from iwi, including Ngati Awa.
Personally, I’m gutted with the sentence. Justice Hansen didn’t, in my opinion, give enough regard to the mitigating factors and he appears, implicitly at the very least, to have endorsed the Crown’s construction of events even though the jury did not on four firearms charges and the criminal group charge. Justice Hansen also imputed an intention from a few selective pieces of evidence. Evidence that he did not give regard to considering the whole circumstances. Also, in another erroneous move, Justice Hansen lists the political views of a person not charged as an aggravating factor.
The learned Judge also takes it upon himself to declare that the defendants were establishing a private militia. Something the jury could not decide on. If they had, then the jury would have convicted the four on the criminal group charge. It is unjust, if you ask me, that the Judge can do this. The jury expressed no opinion on the charge so the Judge should not proceed as if the jury found that the defendants were participating in a criminal group.
The sentences will no doubt be appealed. Whether the sentence is reduced is a moot point. What is not in contention is that this is another slap in the face against Maori, tino rangatiratanga and Tuhoe. A result any less than that which was given would reduce the Crown and undermine the power of the system. A result any less than that which was given would elevate the legitimacy of Maori nationalism and that, for the Crown, is not acceptable.