Convicted Urewera criminals remain unrepentant
"If they're all so innocent, why the reluctance to go into detail about what they were up to?"Featured comment
Maori activist Emily Bailey is unrepentant about her extraordinary escapades with the Urewera 17 and is intent on proving what she is convinced is her "innocence".
Speaking to NBR ONLINE from Parihaka in Taranaki, where she is serving nine months' home detention for a firearms offence, Bailey says the only regret she has is “what happened afterwards”.
Without going into detail or offering any plausible explanation of what was going on in the Ureweras that so concerned the police, she claimed the police "made up a lot of things and there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about what was happening there".
Much of the so-called misunderstanding has been fomented by blinkered fellow travellers bent on putting an "innocent" spin on a serious situation involving guns, Molotov cocktails and attack training.
“It was just a wananga – we were invited to go there and learn different skills, and the use of guns was part of it."
Bailey silent on gun use
She would not say anything about guns and why she needed to use them.
“Political korero was also part of it and there were never any plans to hurt anyone or anything.”
This clearly did not impress the Court of Appeal, which this week declined to overturn her conviction and sentence, along with those of her co-offenders, for serious firearms crime.
Now she and her Swiss partner, Urs Signer, who is also serving home detention for a similar offence, are planning to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court.
Worried Signer may be deported
Bailey says their biggest worry is that Signer may be deported back to his native Switzerland.
Without acknowledging the seriousness of their crime, Bailey says: “That’s why we’re fighting so hard.”
If Signer is deported she says she and their young son may have trouble joining him there because of her firearms conviction.
Again, it is something most people say she should have thought about before she started playing with guns.
“Personally, I think I will be all right in terms of entering Switzerland, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
Detention a bit of a nuisance
In the meantime, they still have another eight months' home detention to serve, something Bailey says is “a bit of a nuisance but we manage to do a lot of gardening”.
“Community service would be far more useful and a better situation for all concerned.”
She says Signer has been allowed to do some work as a farmhand on a trial basis.
Two other members of the Urewera 17 who were convicted of firearms offences are also likely to lodge appeals to the Supreme Court.
Tame Iti and Rangi Kemara are almost six months into a two and half year jail term, but could be released as early as next February when they come up before the Parole Board for the first time.
Iti’s son Wairere told NBR ONLINE it is likely he will take his case to the Supreme Court, but “there’s still a lot of issues to consider”.
Supreme Court appeal not automatic
One of those issues, which Iti junior neglects to say, is that an appeal to the Supreme Court is not an automatic right.
Leave to appeal must be sought, and if the Supreme Court thinks the Court of Appeal got it right, then that's the end of it.
“It could be that dad is out on parole by the time an appeal is heard by the Supreme Court so we have to think about that.”
Iti and Kemara may have lost their liberty but life could be a lot worse for them.
Iti mentors young inmates
Iti is filling in his days at Waikeria prison painting and, according to his son, when he’s not doing that “he’s teaching Te Reo and mentoring some of the younger inmates”.
Like Bailey, the veteran Tuhoe activist is unapologetic about his role in running military-style training camps in the Ureweras.
In a recent Facebook message he says:
"The court decision really only affects my body ... not my mind or thinking – I AM free and I will continue to use my time in Waikeria constructively, I paint everyday and contribute to the prison community.
“New Zealand knows me as a Tuhoe activist, so they will be pleased to learn that even in prison... I remain an active Tuhoe."
Just what use Kemara is making of his time behind bars at Springhill prison in north Waikato is not clear.
Kemara worked for govt IT contractor
The alleged “master at arms” of the Urewera 17 is a highly skilled IT expert.
According to leading blogger and new Truth editor Cameron Slater, Kemara used to be the IT manager for Kingston Strategic, which had a number of government contracts.
Mr Slater says the company once described him as a person who “builds great websites and is a network and internet security whizz”.
Useful skills for someone jailed for serious firearms crime and caught up in what the police believed was terrorist activity...