‘Is anybody coming out?’ Protest ‘people’s court’ fizzles out

‘Is anybody coming out?’ Protest ‘people’s court’ fizzles out

August 23, 2022

Wellington: Anti-government protesters have staged a mock trial at a “people’s court” outside the New Zealand parliament in an underwhelming display of defiance to the government.

Police said about 1500 people attended Tuesday’s march and rally staged by the right-wing Freedoms and Rights Coalition in Wellington.

Freedom and Rights Coalition protesters demonstrate outside the NZ parliament in Wellington on Tuesday.Credit:NZ Herald/AP

The figure was well short of previous rallies and failed to live up to expectations after protest leaders organised travel convoys from the North and South Islands.

Organised by firebrand conservative Brian Tamaki, who has previously led rallies against gay rights, the campaign aired grievances towards the government’s COVID-19 response.

A member of Tamaki’s fundamentalist church played the role of judge, putting the government on trial for “crimes against humanity”.

However, no government members turned up to be part of the spectacle, leaving Tamaki disappointed.

“Is anybody coming out? Is any politician coming out to talk to the people?” he asked over a loudspeaker directed at Wellington’s Beehive.

About 1500 protesters upset with the government’s pandemic response converged on the NZ parliament on Tuesday.Credit:NZ Herald/AP

“This is absolutely undemocratic. It is a snub in the face of the people of New Zealand.”

Many in the crowd carried inflammatory signs as they marched through the city centre, including one which read, “Free NZ, Ditch the B—h”.

One of the chants sung was, “When I say ‘Cindy’, you say ‘Jail time’,” referring to a diminutive of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s first name.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media before a Labour Party caucus meeting that expelled MP Guarav Sharma.Credit:Getty Images

The mock trial heard speakers who told of business struggles and family separations due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

The crowd declared the government guilty by acclamation, but did not give a sentence, with Tamaki saying “Watch this space”.

Ardern said she did not see the rally but was pleased it ran without reports of violence.

“Our hope was that we would [have] on parliament grounds a peaceful and lawful process. By all accounts, it appears to have been of that nature,” she said.

Police ramped up preparations for the protest, stationing dozens of officers around parliament and blockading nearby streets.

A similar event in March spiralled out of control and produced a 23-day occupation which ended in arson and violence. Then protesters set fire to a children’s playground and threw paving stones at police during the harrowing showdown. More than 100 people were arrested on charges including arson, grievous bodily harm, inciting violence, theft, assault, trespass and obstruction.

Researchers had warned dangerous individuals, including neo-Nazis, could have infiltrated Tuesday’s rally.

Ardern said she had no desire to block protests at the seat of the country’s democracy.

“[Protest] is part of who we are as a nation,” she said.

“Parliament is working very hard to make sure that we’re balancing our responsibilities in a democracy … to welcome peaceful and lawful protest.”

Wellington District Commander Superintendent Corrie Parnell said police were “very pleased with how people conducted themselves”.

“The group was monitored closely by police and there were no reported issues.”

During his speech, Tamaki announced the formation of a new political party which would attempt to win seats at next year’s election.

Australian right-wing blogger Avi Yemini attempted to travel to Wellington for the rally but was blocked by Kiwi officials.

An Immigration NZ spokesman told AAP Yemini was denied entry on character grounds due to a criminal conviction.

Meanwhile Dr Gaurav Sharma has become the first NZ Labour MP to be expelled in more than a decade, turfed from Ardern’s caucus after a fortnight of sensational but unsubstantiated claims.

Labour MPs voted to remove Sharma, already suspended from the caucus, at a partyroom meeting on Tuesday.

Dr Sharma had accused Ardern and others in the party of lying and covering up a bullying culture.

Ardern said Sharma was expelled for “repeated and calculated breaches of caucus rules” which “resulted in the complete loss of trust by his fellow Labour MPs”.

The Hamilton West MP will now consider whether to sit as an independent or leave parliament.


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