After an upsurge in anti-pandemic mandate demonstrations in Wellington over the weekend, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern suggested that the thousands of protesters were “imported” from overseas.
Police in Wellington arrested 122 people last Thursday, Feb. 10, after hundreds of protesters and trucks showed up in the capital around New Zealand’s Parliament. Over the weekend, the crowd swelled to more than 3,000 people, and hundreds remained encamped around the legislature as of Monday, Feb. 14.
The protests take inspiration from the Freedom Convoy movement that has spread across Canada in recent weeks after thousands of truckers decided to voice their opposition to Ottawa’s strict measures implemented in response to COVID-19.
“It feels like an imported protest to me,” Ardern said in an interview with state-run TVNZ on Monday, noting the presence of “Trump flags” and the Canadian maple leaf flag held by some protesters on the Parliament forecourt.
Ardern’s remarks earned her quick dersion. One Twitter user with the handle Jen’s Ghost wrote:
“As if people from New Zealand would never rise up or go against her orders? As if they don’t think for themselves but just copy others?
Footage from the protests suggest a diverse turnout among the participants, with many nonwhite demonstrators making signs of the Maori indigenous ethnicity.
The protests have remained peaceful; those arrested by the police were charged with trespassing and obstruction, not violent crimes. However, video taken on the scenes over the last few days shows police officers beating and manhandling demonstrators.
Ardern also called the assembly “intimidation and harassment of the people” in the capital, claiming that the protests were no longer about expressing a viewpoint because of the obstruction they caused in Wellington.
“I very clearly have a view on the protesters and the way that they’ve conducted their protest,” she said. “That cannot be tolerated.”
A video that went viral last week shows an unclothed woman being dragged on the ground and flipped on her stomach by several police officers, one of whom sits on her before putting her in handcuffs.
Similar to the events in Canada, demonstrators in New Zealand — where 77 percent of the population is vaccinated — are mainly opposed to the government’s handling of the pandemic, which has included authoritarian measures such as locking citizens in quarantine camps, closing off borders, and strict lockdowns disrupting business, education, and daily life.