New Zealanders give up guns after massacre, but some face blowback

A man looks at firearms on display at Gun City gunshop in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 March 2019
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New Zealanders give up guns after massacre, but some face blowback

  • Police said they did not have data available on the number of weapons handed in since Friday

CHRISCHURCH, New Zealand: New Zealanders have begun handing in weapons in response to government appeals following the Christchurch massacre, but the gesture has put some squarely in the social media firing line.
John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton, decided to give his semi-automatic rifle to police after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday plans to tighten gun laws in light of the slaughter Friday of 50 Muslim worshippers.
She also encouraged owners to surrender unnecessary firearms after it emerged that the accused mosque attacker, Australia white nationalist Brenton Tarrant, had legally acquired the guns he used in the rampage.
Hart said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted that “on the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.”
The tweet drew a barrage of derogatory messages to his Facebook account — most apparently from the US, where the pro-gun lobby is powerful and vociferous.
Hart deleted the messages but posted online: “A warm kia ora to all my new American Facebook friends.”
“I’m not familiar with your local customs, but I assume ‘Cuck’ is a traditional greeting,” he said of the insult, short for “cuckold’, frequently used by far-right extremists.
Hart told AFP many of the messages made inaccurate references to his sexuality.
“It was very sudden. It started about the time the US east coast was waking up. There seemed to have been a rallying call,” he said.
A more mild message, from Kaden Heaney asked: “What’s the point of giving up yalls personal guns? Yall do realize what happens to societies that give up their guns right? Evil people will get their hands on guns, knives, bombs or whatever they want to kill no matter what the intentions of good people are. Who will protect you.”
Christopher @offwhiteblogger said: “You did the right thing then; you clearly aren’t responsible enough to own a firearm.”
Police said they did not have data available on the number of weapons handed in since Friday.
But they issued a statement saying that “due to heightened security and the current environment, we would ask that people please call us first before attempting to surrender a firearm.”
A person calling himself Blackstone tweeted: “this is one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. Have owned a firearm for 31 years ... Once I realized that, the only way I could go forward with a clear conscience was to hand it into the police for destruction.”
Ardern has said that details of the government’s proposed law changes on gun ownership will be announced by next week, but she indicated that gun buybacks and a ban on some semi-automatic rifles were under consideration.
“As the Cabinet, we were absolutely unified and very clear: the terror attack in Christchurch on Friday was the worst act of terrorism on our shores, it was in fact one of the worst globally in recent times, it has exposed a range of weaknesses in New Zealand’s gun laws,” she said.
New Zealand police, meanwhile, were investigating a suspicious fire at a gun club in the far north of the country, but were not immediately linking it to the current gun debate.
There had also been a fire at the same club a year ago.


Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

Updated 23 min 44 sec ago
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Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

  • The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang
  • Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances

BEIJING: A Belgian diplomat was expected to travel to China’s restive Xinjiang region on Tuesday to confirm the whereabouts of a Uighur family that was escorted from Belgium’s embassy in Beijing by police last month.
The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances.
“I am worried about their safety,” he told AFP. “I hope they can safely come be at my side as soon as possible, and our family can reunite.”
Belgium’s decision to dispatch a diplomat to Xinjiang comes as the embassy faces criticism for allegedly enabling Chinese police to take the family back to Xinjiang — where they could face detention.
“The case exposes the additional risk Uighurs in China face even if they want to seek help from foreign governments,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.
“The Belgian embassy set an extremely bad example of how governments put economic interests above human rights,” he told AFP.
China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.
The mother, Horiyat Abula, and her four children traveled to Beijing at the end of May to complete missing paperwork for their family reunification visas.
According to Tursun, his wife and children panicked upon learning it would take “at least three months” for their visas to be approved and refused to leave the embassy.
They were afraid to return to their hotel because police had visited them multiple times since they arrived in Beijing, he explained.
“The police came in the middle of the night, asking why they came to Beijing, when they would return,” he said. “They were very scared, they didn’t sleep all night.”
The embassy offered to accompany Abula and her four children back to their hotel, but they “refused to leave the embassy in a kind of sit-in,” a Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
In an interview published Tuesday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told Le Soir newspaper that the diplomatic police “asked the family to leave the premises” and the situation was explained to the father the next day.
An embassy is not intended to “lodge people” applying for visas, he said.
In the end, Chinese police “escorted them away,” the Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
A few days later, Abula and her children were taken away by Xinjiang police, her husband said, and he has not heard from her since.
Reynders told the Belga news agency on Monday that the diplomat would go to the address given by the father to check if “everything is going well” with them.
“My only concern here is that we can reunite the family,” he told Belga.
On Monday the foreign ministry did not have confirmation that they were at home.
The case highlights the barriers Uighurs face in attempting to leave China.
According to human rights groups, authorities in Xinjiang have confiscated passports of Uighurs, making it difficult for them to join their relatives overseas.
Abula and her children too have struggled to obtain passports — an issue that Belgium’s ambassador will take up with China’s director of consular affairs, Reynders told Belga.
Abula applied for a passport in 2017, but never received one, according to receipts seen by AFP.
Tursun believes that the family “took a risk” by traveling outside Xinjiang in the first place.
“If my family then returns to (Xinjiang’s capital) Urumqi, it’s very likely that they will be sent to a concentration camp,” he wrote in March in an email to a non-profit helping the family with their visa application.