NZ judge allows images of man charged in mosque shootings

Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the Christchurch mosque shootings, appears in the Christchurch District Court, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (File/AP/Mark Mitchell)
Updated 10 June 2019
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NZ judge allows images of man charged in mosque shootings

  • Previously, the courts ruled media could only publish images which pixelated the face of Brenton Harrison Tarrant
  • Retired law professor Bill Hodge says the initial argument for suppression was likely made to ensure witnesses weren’t tainted

WELLINGTON, New Zealand:  A New Zealand judge ruled Thursday that media outlets can now show the face of the man accused of killing 51 people at two Christchurch mosques.
Two New Zealand courts had previously ruled that television stations, websites, newspapers and other media could only publish images which pixelated the face of Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian white supremacist accused of the March 15 mass shooting.
But High Court Judge Cameron Mander wrote in a court note that prosecutors had advised him there was no longer any need to suppress images of Tarrant's face and he was lifting the order.
The previous rulings hadn't stopped images of Tarrant from circulating on the internet, and questions remained about whether the court's rulings could be applied to media operating outside of New Zealand's borders.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers, who have not commented on the case publicly, did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment on Thursday.
Retired law professor Bill Hodge said the initial argument for suppressing images of Tarrant was likely made to ensure witnesses weren't tainted — that they could identify the gunman from their own recollection and not from seeing a picture in a newspaper.
“I can only assume that neither side is concerned about poisoning the well of identification witnesses,” Hodge said.
Tarrant livestreamed much of his attack on Facebook. The chilling 17-minute video, in which he shows his face, was copied and widely viewed on the internet even as tech companies scrambled to remove it.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to say the gunman's name, and last month helped lead a global pledge named the “Christchurch Call,” aimed at boosting efforts to keep internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organize extremist groups and broadcast attacks.
The White House did not endorse the pledge, citing respect for “freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
Hodge said Ardern and other politicians might be making a nice gesture by trying to avoid giving Tarrant the publicity he's likely seeking. But Hodge said that's been somewhat undermined after police decided last month to add a terrorism charge against Tarrant to the charges of murder and attempted murder he already faced.
Hodge said the terrorism charge had never been previously tested in New Zealand's court system and it could backfire by giving Tarrant a platform to broadcast his white supremacist views, since defending himself against that charge could give him more scope to express his alleged motives.
A spokesperson for Ardern said the prime minister had no comment to make on a matter for the court.
Tarrant is next scheduled to appear in court via videolink on June 14, when he is expected to enter pleas to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism.


Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

Updated 34 min 33 sec ago

Thai police order for intel on Muslim students sparks outrage

  • Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the Malay-Muslim population
  • Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states

BANGKOK: A Thai Muslim student group Wednesday called for police to drop an order requesting universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in the Buddhist-majority state.
Muslims make up Thailand’s second largest religious group, with the majority residing in its three southernmost states, which since 2004 have been in the grip of a conflict between Malay-Muslim separatist rebels and Thai authorities.
Rights groups have long accused the state of heavy-handed sweeps of the majority Malay-Muslim population in that region — which is under martial law.
Last week the Special Branch Bureau issued a nationwide order to universities to provide “intelligence” on Muslim students and their activities in school, police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen told AFP Tuesday, citing “security” concerns.
The news sparked immediate outrage from the community, and the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand on Wednesday called for parliament to “cancel” the request.
The Special Branch’s order “is also a form of discrimination that breaches the constitution,” president Ashraf Awae said, speaking outside parliament.
Such “groundless accusations... could create divisions among the Muslim students and others in the university and society,” he said.
He added the federation had already heard of police requesting information on Muslim student groups from at least three major universities.
Junta chief-turned-prime minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Tuesday defended the Special Branch, and denied creating a “database” would be a violation of people’s rights.
“We can’t arrest anyone if they don’t do anything wrong,” he told reporters.
Prayut’s backing shows an “alarming trend of growing Islamophobia in Thailand,” said Human Rights Watch’s Sunai Phasuk.
“This is state-sanctioned discrimination,” he told AFP, adding that the Thai constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination toward different religions and ethnic groups.
“It could feed into radicalization of Muslims in the deep south and worsen the conflict,” Sunai said.
The ex-general had masterminded a coup in 2014, leading a five-year junta regime before elections in March formally installed him as a civilian premier thanks to a new constitution tilted to the military.
Under Prayut’s tenure as junta head, police had rounded up at least 50 Thai Muslims, mostly university students, in a dragnet operation in October 2016 that authorities justified was necessary to stop a suspected car bomb plot.