Supporters of the mosque shooting victims sing outside the Christchurch High Court during the sentencing hearing. (Mark Baker/ AP)
A court in New Zealand has sentenced a self-confessed white supremacist who killed 51 Muslims as they prayed at two mosques in Christchurch to life imprisonment without parole, the first time such a sentence has been handed down in the country.
Brenton Tarrant, a 29-year-old Australian, pleaded guilty earlier this year to 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act during the March 2019 rampage in the southern city, which he livestreamed on Facebook.
In delivering the sentence, High Court Judge Cameron Mander said on Thursday that a finite term was insufficient for such a crime and that Tarrant had shown no remorse.
“Your crimes are so wicked that even if you are detained until you die it will not exhaust the requirements of punishment and denunciation,” Mander said.
“As far as I can discern, you are empty of any empathy for your victims.”
Mosque shooting survivors, from left, Mustafa Boztas, Wassail Daragmih and Temel Atacocugu as they leave the Christchurch High Court after the sentencing hearing for Brenton Tarrant [Mark Baker/ AP]
Prosecutors told the court at the opening of the sentencing hearing on Monday that Tarrant had been planning the attacks for a long time and wanted to create fear among immigrants.
The killer had been representing himself and said through a lawyer in court on Thursday that he did not oppose the sentence. Dressed in grey prison clothes and surrounded by guards, Tarrant did not react to the sentence.
“The hatred that lies at the heart of your hostility to particular members of the community that you came to this country to murder has no place here – it has no place anywhere,” Mander said.
‘Complete and utter silence’
Temel Atacocugu, who survived being shot nine times during the attack at the Al Noor mosque, said he felt relieved at the sentence.
“Finally we can breathe freely, and we feel secure, and my kids feel secure,” Atacocugu told The Associated Press news agency. “The justice system has locked up this ideology forever.”
Gamal Fouda, the imam of Al Noor Mosque, said that “no punishment would bring our loved ones back”, but was proud of New Zealand’s response to extremism.
“We respect our justice system and in New Zealand Muslim community, and the non-Muslim as well – we stood together against hate. And with it, our own model for the world. Extremists are all the same. Whether they use religions, nationalism or any other ideology,” he said.
“All extremists, they represent hate. but we are here today. We represent love, compassion, Muslim and non-Muslim people of faith and of no faith. That is us, New Zealanders, and we are very proud that we are Muslims in New Zealand and we’ll continue to serve this country, and no punishment again is going to bring our loved ones back.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was relieved “that person will never see the light of day”.
“The trauma of March 15 is not easily healed, but today I hope is the last where we have any cause to hear or utter the name of the terrorist behind it. His deserves to be a lifetime of complete and utter silence,” she said.
Ardern praised survivors and families of the victims who gave emotionally-charged statements in court this week, calling for Tarrant to be sentenced to life without parole.
“Nothing will take the pain away but I hope you felt the arms of New Zealand around you through this whole process, and I hope you continue to feel that through all the days that follow.”
Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia, also welcomed Tarrant’s sentencing.
“Justice was today delivered to the terrorist and murderer for his cowardly and horrific crimes in Christchurch. It is right that we will never see or hear from him again,” said Morrison.
The March 2019 attacks shocked New Zealand and prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons. They also prompted global changes to social media protocols.
During the four-day sentencing hearing, 90 survivors and family members recounted the horror of the attacks and the trauma they continue to feel.
Some spoke to the gunman angrily, calling him a monster and a coward. Some recited verses from the Quran or addressed him in Arabic. A few spoke softly to Tarrant, saying they forgave him.
Sara Qasem spoke on Thursday about her beloved father Abdelfattah, who was killed in the attacks.
“All a daughter ever wants is her dad. I want to go on more road trips with him. I want to smell his garden-sourced cooking. His cologne,” she said. “I want to hear him tell me more about the olive trees in Palestine. I want to hear his voice. My dad’s voice. My Baba’s voice.”