Tight security at NZ court for start of mosque attacker sentence hearing

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NZ police snipers
Police snipers were part of the strong security surrounding the High Court in Christchurch today. Image: Nate McKinnon/RNZ

By RNZ News

Warning: This story includes distressing details of the 15 March 2019 mosque terrorism attacks.

The High Court in Christchurch was ringed with heavy security today for the sentencing of the New Zealand mosque attack gunman, Brenton Tarrant.

RNZ’s reporter in Christchurch said police snipers had been seen on rooftops and roads near the city’s justice precinct are blocked off.

Other court activity was limited to urgent matters only.

Strict cyber precautions for watching the trial via a livestream were also in place.

Dozens of mosque shooting victims and their families began waiting outside the court in the rain early today, with more than 60 expected to have their say.

Survivors of the mosque attack st the High Court today. Image: PMC screenshot TVNZ

The High Court hearing was set to start at 10am and is expected to take about four days.

It was the first time Tarrant had appeared in person in the dock since his first appearance shortly after the March 15 attacks.

He has admitted 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

Television news bulletin on the court sentencing hearing today. Image: PMC screenshot TVNZ

Embargoed until 1pm adjournment
Nothing that was happening in the courtroom could be reported until after the 1pm adjournment.

The nature, scale and media coverage of the massacre positions the crime as a highly unusual court case, complicated by New Zealand’s second covid-19 outbreak.

Despite this, the four-day hearing will follow the usual sentencing format aside from the reading of the summary of facts, outlining the admitted crime, at the start of the day.

This is expected to take some time, given the number of charges, and will be the first time the victims and their families will hear the massacre detailed in open court.

Brenton Tarrant
Convicted terrorist Brenton Tarrant in the High Court at Christchurch today for the start of his sentencing hearing. Image: PMC screenshot of TVNZ

Next, 66 victims will share their victim impact statements, in person, by way of recording or through a supporter, in a stage of the sentencing that will likely take several days.

Crown prosecutors Mark Zarifeh and Barnaby Hawes will then make legal submissions before an amicus curiae, a lawyer assisting the court, will address the judge.

Given the 29-year-old has elected to represent himself at sentencing, either he or a standby lawyer appointed by the court will present legal submissions for the defence.

He will then be sentenced by Justice Mander.

‘Hero’ relieved hearing under way
The man hailed as a hero for saving lives by chasing the Christchurch gunman away from the Linwood mosque is relieved sentencing day is finally here.

Abdul Aziz threw an eftpos machine and gun at the attacker which scared the shooter off in March last year.

He is one of hundreds of victims coming face to face with the convicted terrorist today.

Abdul spoke to RNZ before heading into the High Court with his two sons and is glad the final chapter of his nightmare is ending.

“We are looking forward to these days actually because we have waited long enough for these days. We just want to close this chapter and move on. It’s a mixed emotion,” he said.

He said he wanted to stay strong and not show the gunman how hard it had really been.

“I wrote down the impact statement but I just gave it to the judge to read it. But I don’t want [the convicted terrorist] to know how much impact he has had on us. A lot of people’s lives have completely [changed]. We’re not really the same persons we used to be.”

Emotions expected to flood back
Abdul Aziz said he was not fearful of seeing Tarrant in person but said he expected memories and emotions to come flooding back.

Abdul Aziz, witness of Linwood mosque shooting
Abdul Aziz expects the court hearing to bring back many memories and emotions. Image: Conan Young/RNZ

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

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