Trial of accused Christchurch mosque shooter may be delayed

Tarrant’s lawyers requested the trail to be moved to Auckland, where he is being kept in high security prison. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 August 2019

Trial of accused Christchurch mosque shooter may be delayed

  • The trial is scheduled to begin on May 3, which coincides with Ramadan
  • Survivors of victims wish the trial would be delayed until after the holy month

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: The trial of the man accused of killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques could be delayed by several weeks to avoid clashing with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The trial had been scheduled to begin on May 3 in the city of Christchurch, where the Muslim worshippers were killed five months ago during Friday prayers. But prosecutors said during a hearing Thursday they were working with court officials to see if they could fulfil the wishes of survivors and victims’ families by delaying the trial until after Ramadan ends in late May, Radio New Zealand reported.
Also during the hearing, lawyers for accused gunman Brenton Tarrant asked if the venue for the trial could be changed to Auckland, where Tarrant is being held at a maximum security prison, RNZ reported. Judge Cameron Mander plans to hear arguments for the venue change during the next hearing on Oct. 3.
Mander had earlier issued a written note saying that Tarrant could skip Thursday’s hearing because his lawyers didn’t require him to be there and he hadn’t sought to attend in person or by video. The 28-year-old Australian white supremacist has been charged with terrorism, murder and attempted murder.
On Wednesday, prison officials admitted making a mistake by allowing Tarrant to send a six-page letter from his jail cell to a supporter. The letter was then posted on the 4chan website, which has become notorious as a place for white supremacists to post their views.
Corrections Department Chief Executive Christine Stevenson apologized for the distress the letter may have caused to victims of the March 15 attacks and said Tarrant had been stopped from sending or receiving any more letters until the department had processes in place to ensure the safety of the public.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis told RNZ that Tarrant had sent seven letters since he’d been in jail and had written two more letters that prison staff had withheld. Davis said Tarrant sent two of the letters to his mother but didn’t know who had received the other five letters.
The online posting of the letter came at a sensitive time, with other alleged killers from El Paso, Texas, to Norway citing Tarrant as an inspiration.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to utter Tarrant’s name in order to deny him the publicity she says he craves, making Tarrant’s letter even more of an embarrassment for the government.
“I think every New Zealander would have an expectation that this individual should not be able to share his hateful message from behind bars,” she told media on the island nation of Tuvalu, where she is traveling to attend a meeting of Pacific leaders.
Tarrant’s lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday on why they wanted to change the trial venue.
University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis, who is not involved in the case, said there were precedents in New Zealand for changing venue when it could be successfully argued that a jury pool in a town where an alleged crime took place was so tainted it couldn’t be relied upon to deliver a fair verdict.
But Geddis said that, although he didn’t know the specific arguments for changing venue in the Tarrant case, he would be surprised if the application was successful. He said the Christchurch shootings were notorious enough that everybody in New Zealand knew about them, and a change in venue would also seriously inconvenience the dozens of survivors and family members who continue to live in Christchurch.


Korea test-fires ‘super-large multiple rocket launcher'

Updated 25 August 2019

Korea test-fires ‘super-large multiple rocket launcher'

  • Kim likes testing missiles, says US president
  • Denuclearization talks in trouble

SEOUL: North Korea test-fired a new type of multiple rocket launch system late Saturday into the sea off its east coast, state media reported.

It was the seventh test in a month, as negotiations to scrap the North’s nuclear arsenal flounder.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Sunday that the latest weapons’ test was on a newly developed “super-large multiple rocket launcher.”

The country’s leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the test and called the device a “great weapon.”

North Korea must step up its development of strategic and tactical weapons to counter the “ever-mounting military threats and pressure offensive of hostile forces,” KCNA reported Kim as saying while he oversaw the testing.

One of the short-range weapons has been identified as a KN-23, a mobile short-range ballistic missile based on the technology of Russia’s Iskander missile, which could hit targets across the South after evading missile interceptors operated by South Korea’s military. Pyongyang maintains that joint South Korea-US military drills are a provocation.

South Korea officials urged the North to stop hostile acts.

“We express strong concern that the North continues to test-fire short-range projectiles despite the South Korea-US military drills ending,” a presidential spokesman told reporters on Saturday. “We urge the North to halt such hostile acts that raise military tensions.”

Despite worries about the North’s provocations that could harm the security of South Korea where 28,500 US armed forces personnel are stationed, US President Donald Trump again touted his friendship with Kim.

“Kim Jong-un has been pretty straight with me, I think, and we’re going to see what’s going on, we’re going to see what’s happening,” he told reporters in Washington before heading to the G-7 summit in France on Friday night. “He likes testing missiles, but we never restricted short-range missiles.”

Trump and Kim held a surprise meeting in the Demilitarized Zone in June and agreed to resume working-level denuclearization negotiations within a month, but such a meeting has yet to be held.

In a further sign that nuclear disarmament talks are barely holding together, the North blamed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for complicating the talks, calling him a “diehard toxin.”

“He is truly impudent enough to utter such thoughtless words which only leave us disappointed and skeptical as to where we can solve any problem with such a guy,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said on Friday in a statement carried by KCNA, referring to Pompeo’s recent remarks in which he said sanctions would be kept until the North took concrete steps to bin nuclear weapons.

US Special Representative Stephen Biegun for North Korea was in Seoul last week to discuss ways to get negotiations back on track but it is not clear if he contacted his North Korean counterpart.

Biegun’s efforts were overshadowed by South Korea’s surprising decision to sever military ties with Japan. 

On Thursday, the presidential Blue House announced it would pull out of an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, a key pillar of the US-led trilateral alliance in East Asia to check the influence of China and Russia.

The intelligence pact, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), has benefited South Korea’s military to collect key information on North Korean nuclear and missile activities, as Japan operates seven spy satellites while South Korea has no such strategic assets.

The decision to end GSOMIA came amid escalating trade disputes over Japan’s restriction of exporting chip-making materials to South Korea following disputes arising from Japanese colonial rule.