History of Polynesia|
Date: Thu, 2 Nov 1995 07:26:16 -0500
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Subject: French crackdown in Tahiti
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Title: French crackdown in Tahiti
French crackdown in Tahiti
By Norm Dixon, in Green Left Weekly
2 November 1995
Gabriel Tetiarahi, leader of Tahiti's umbrella NGO organisation Hiti Tau,
fears that he will be arrested by French colonial authorities when returns
to Papeete after a brief visit to Australia. Tetiarahi's fears are well
founded. Since the protests and riots that rocked Tahiti in the wake of the
first French test, there has been a crackdown on anti-nuclear and
pro-independence activists, trade unionists, protest participants and
others. By all accounts, the atmosphere in Papeete's streets remains tense
as hundreds of heavily armed black-clad riot police, flown in from half way
around the world, make their presence felt.
On September 9, police seized Hirohiti Tefaarere, general secretary of
Tahiti's peak trade union organisation A Tia I Mua, and 15 members of the
organisation's executive. A Tia I Mua called the general strike that
paralysed Papeete after the first test. An unprovoked police attack on a
peaceful demonstration at the international airport was the spark that led
to two days of militant protest.
Speaking from Papeete on September 20, Te Hirshon, who works with the
pro-independence radio station Te Reo o Tefana and is a spokesperson for the
main independence party, Tavini Huiraatira (Polynesian Liberation Front),
told Green Left Weekly that Tefaarere remains in jail on a charge that
carries a 20-year sentence. Three other union officials remain in detention.
"There has been some rough treatment of the people in the days after the
riots. Especially against the union leaders. They were kept for 48 hours
without any water or food", Hirshon said. The unionists have reported being
tortured with electric shocks and being forced to kneel down for hours on
The colonial authorities have instituted a reign of intimidation, Hirshon
told Green Left Weekly. Many people are being taken in for interrogation by
police, including several leading members of Tavini Huiraatira. So far no
arrests have been made, although they may occur in the near future.
As many as 50 people who participated in the militant protests have been
"judged and condemned" to jail terms, she reported. French authorities
demanded that journalists hand over video footage and photographs so that
other participants in the protests could be identified and charged. Families
in the working-class district of Faaa live in fear that their sons or
daughters will be taken from them.
French colonial authorities are also threatening to take action against Te
Reo o Tefana, Hirshon told Green Left Weekly. They claim the radio station
was responsible for the damage to the airport and the Papeete city centre
because it inflamed the situation on the first day of unrest by reporting
developments as they occurred.
"In Paris, they are going to decide what to do to the radio station: close
it, fine it or reduce its broadcasting hours", she said. Te Reo o Tefana is
the independence movement's most important means of countering the
pro-French monopoly of the local media and of organising and informing
independence movement supporters. It has played a leading role in the
opposition to French nuclear testing.
The Tahiti newspapers, owned by French media baron Robert Hersant - whose
flagship French daily Le Figaro is notorious for its pro-nuclear,
pro-imperialist defence of France's remaining colonial empire - have mounted
a huge campaign to smear Gabriel Tetiarahi and Hiti Tau.
In banner headlines, Tetiarahi's comments at a Canberra press conference on
September 14 were misquoted to appear as though he was calling on Tahitians
to "kill" and destroy property to stop the tests and rid the Pacific of
the French government. In response to this hysteria, the pro-French leader
of the territorial government Gaston Flosse announced that Tetiarahi is
being investigated with view to laying charges against him when he returns
to Tahiti on September 23 (Sydney time).
Hirshon said told Green Left Weekly that from the tone of the newspaper
coverage of Tetiarahi's supposed comments, "he may be in trouble ... but I
cannot imagine on what grounds they can arrest somebody like that".
She said that Tetiarahi "is not known as an independence leader. He is head
of an NGO organisation that is not a political party but works on human
rights issues, issues to do with indigenous rights, and campaigning to put
France in the world court for testing nuclear devices. He is not a political
person." Both Tetiarahi and Hiti Tau are well known throughout French
Polynesia as advocates of non-violence.
Speaking at a press conference in Sydney on September 19, Tetiarahi defended
himself against the charges that he advocated violence. He said he was
quoted out of context while calling for the United Nations to act to remedy
the French government's violation of the Polynesian people's right to
"I deplore the fact that the UN takes action only when there is loss of
life, genocide and other attempts on the right to life of others ... I did
say that unless the testing is stopped I am sure there would be more
violence, but I will always remain non-violent. Never was my organisation
involved in the violence we saw in town and at the airport, never."
Tetiarahi placed the blame for the violence squarely in the lap of the
French government. 'The process of violence started with the decision of
Jacques Chirac to resume the nuclear testing. The riots were only the
consequence of the violence decided by Chirac. Our people continue to live
in frustration and humiliation because our voices have never been able to be
"Nuclear testing for us is a violation of our right to self-determination.
It is our position as an NGO which defends our universal rights as a people
to exercise national sovereignty. It is not possible for our people to
accept nuclear testing in our country ... I continue to regret that the UN
is not able to focus its concerns on our people. I continue to regret that
it is only the time when young men commit killings and burnings that the UN
acts. I don't agree with that and I have never called on my people to be
Questioned further about the source of the violence, Tetiarahi said the
"social and political system is behind the violence. They have thrown
20,000 young people into the streets without jobs. The reason for the
violence is the humiliation and frustration the people feel, which began
when France started the tests here 30 years ago. The violence was
spontaneous. It was not organised at all."
Te Hirshon told Green Left Weekly that the French-owned press was
misquoting Tetiarahi "to disinform and scare people about independence ...
Our enemies for the moment control the press, and are using it." However,
these attempts to split the anti-nuclear and independence movement are not
succeeding, she believes.
The French government and the Hersant press are clearly afraid that the
independence movement is winning greater support from Tahitians opposed to
nuclear testing. Tavini Huiraatira's argument that French control of Tahiti
and continued nuclear testing are intertwined is being accepted by many
Maohi people, especially those organised within the grassroots environmental
groups, women's groups, human rights advocates and trade unions which are
represented by Hiti Tau, and also by the churches.
The French ruling class's effort to focus on violence is an attempt to drive
a wedge between the historically more conservative sections of the Maohi
people who have joined the anti-nuclear struggle, and the more militant
The most important addition to the anti-nuclear struggle has been the active
involvement of the Protestant churches, Hirshon explained. 'On September
18, the president and general secretary of the [main Protestant] church left
for France to meet with President Chirac, to ask him to end the tests. The
church is a very important organisation in Polynesian society; the
Protestant church here is the majority church and 90% of Maohi people are
"For the past 20 years, once a year they would make a declaration or pass a
resolution against nuclear testing. This year they decided resolutions were
not enough. For the first time they went to the streets and organised a
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