New Zealand activist receives death threats after protest against Western Sahara phosphate imports

A photo of one of the protests.
A photo of one of the protests. Photo credit: Supplied

A New Zealand activist says she's been receiving rape and murder threats from Morocco after leading a protest against "blood phosphate" imports.

Josie Butler, who infamously threw a dildo at Steven Joyce at Waitangi in 2016, organised the demonstration at the Port of Lyttelton last month. It was in opposition to a bulk shipment of fertiliser from the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975 and has been accused of illegally occupying the area and carrying out human rights abuses against the local Saharawi people.

Since organising the protest, Butler says she's received rape and murder threats from Morocco, and has provided screenshots of the messages.

"We will eat you sweet and our army will be rape [sic]," one reads.

"When it comes to our kingdom we kill every motherf***er that puts his hand," another states.

One of the threats Butler received.
One of the threats Butler received. Photo credit: Supplied

Butler says all the threats have come from Facebook accounts of Moroccan or pro-Morocco individuals and threats included images of the Moroccan military police.

Two New Zealand fertiliser firms, Ravensdown and Ballance, are involved in the import of the phosphate.

On its website, Ravensdown says it is "confident" domestic and international law currently permits importing phosphate rock from Western Sahara.

It also emphasises there are "two sides to the story" and "it's best not to ignore the complexity of the situation".

"We conduct our due diligence with OCP who supply the rock from the area," it states.

"In an area of few other opportunities, simply stopping the trade in phosphate would impact on the livelihoods of many people in Western Sahara."

Ballance says on its website it is "comfortable both legally and ethically" with how it sources phosphate rock.

A photo from one of the protests.
A photo from one of the protests. Photo credit: Supplied

New Zealand activists have spoken out against the threats made against Butler and called for the companies involved to take action.

"Violent threats are just another tactic used by oppressive regimes in order to suppress opposition and avoid accountability," says Sam Murphy, of Environmental Justice Ōtepoti.

"Ravensdown and Ballance need to own the fact that they are enabling violence against Saharawi people in Western Sahara, and enabling violent threats against Kiwi human rights activists.

"Ravensdown's repeated appeals to consider the other side of the story minimizes and excuses the violence of the Moroccan occupation. It needs to stop."

Butler says she has reported the threats to the New Zealand Police and Netsafe.

"These threats are nothing compared to what Saharawi experience on a daily basis," she says.

"I cannot understand why Ravensdown and Ballance would want to do business with people who act like this. It's frightening."

Ravensdown CEO Greg Campbell told Newshub it disagrees with Butler about the benefits of the phosphate trade to the Saharawi people. 

"I've met with Josie and several others to outline the industry's point of view on the topic of Western Sahara which the UN designates as 'sovereignty undecided'," he said.

"It's always been our contention that the UN is the right place to reach a settlement as there are more than two sides to the story."

Campbell adds Ravensdown "deplores any use of threats", and "the tone of our engagement has always been respectful".

"Any individual trolls attacking anyone are not speaking for the industry and these comments have absolutely no connection to Ravensdown," he said.

"The fact that anyone could resort to such personal comments on the web is sickening. It's vital that for such an important issue, the principles of civilised and informed debate are maintained.

"Being unregulated, social media can contain lots of unhelpful misinformation, innuendo and inflammatory language. It's important that all sides of a disagreement try their best to deal with each other's perspectives with compassion and humanity, not coercion and hatred."

Ballance says "any kind of threatening behaviour is not OK" and it supports "open and transparent debate" on any issue.

"Fertiliser made with Western Saharan phosphate rock provides New Zealand's agricultural sector with the very best blend of nutrients so farm production can be optimised while managing the industry's environmental footprint for future generations. NZ soil has unique deficiencies which can be offset by fertiliser if we get the recipe right," a spokesperson said.

"The phosphate rock that best suits NZ's requirements comes from a Western Sahara location called Boucraa. Mining company OCP,  through a subsidiary called Phosboucraa, returns all profits to the Western Saharan people, the Saharawi, through investment in areas such as health, education and housing."

If you have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment or assault and would like to speak to someone, you could call the HELP support service.