Kailua-Kona, Hawaii (Reuters) - Eight people were arrested in a protest against what would be one of the world’s largest telescopes to be built on a dormant Hawaiian volcano, officials said on Wednesday, amid a contentious debate over Native Hawaiian rights and sacred lands.
Officers with Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources arrested seven women and one man who were at a protest camp across the road from a visitor’s center on the 13,796-foot (4,205 m) Mauna Kea volcano overnight, agency spokesman Dan Dennison said.
A handful of self-described protectors have been camping for months at the makeshift encampment, objecting to the construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope near the volcano’s summit.
Dennison said the group was arrested for violating emergency rules that prohibit camping on the mountain.
The summit is considered by astronomers to be one of the best places in the world to view the cosmos, but the mountain is also sacred to native Hawaiians, and protesters have stood vigil on its sometimes-frigid summit for months.
Eleven people were arrested in June, after several hundred demonstrators gathered in protest and placed large boulders in the path of construction vehicles.
In a four-minute video of the arrests released on Wednesday morning by the department, some protesters formed a small circle and chanted as officers approached them. By Wednesday afternoon, the seven women had been released from jail, Dennison said.
Several of the protesters stated on social media that they are not phased by the arrests and will continue their vigil to protect a mountain they consider sacred land.
“Last night’s arrest only made us stronger. We walked out of the police station even stronger,” Kuuipo Freitas said in a post on Facebook.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs condemned the arrests in a statement, saying the protesters were “in the act of pule, or prayer.”
“Native Hawaiians have constitutionally protected rights to reasonably engage in traditional and customary practices, and regulations cannot eliminate the exercise of these rights,” the statement said.
Editing by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Ken Wills