New Zealand terrorist pleads not guilty in mosque killings, shows little emotion

In this March 16, 2019, file photo, Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the Christchurch mosque shootings, appears in the District Court in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Mark Mitchell, Pool, File)
Updated 14 June 2019

New Zealand terrorist pleads not guilty in mosque killings, shows little emotion

  • The white supremacist has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in relation to the March 15 massacre

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: The man accused of killing 51 people at two Christchurch mosques on Friday pleaded not guilty to all the charges filed against him.
Brenton Tarrant smirked as his lawyer, Shane Tait, entered the not guilty pleas, but otherwise showed little emotion during the hearing at the Christchurch High Court.
The 28-year-old Australian appeared via video link from a small room at the maximum security prison in Auckland where he’s being held.
The courtroom was filled with 80 survivors and family members, while about another 60 watched the proceedings on video in an overflow room.
Four cultural advisers and other staff were assigned to help the victims and family members understand what was going on in court and the next steps in the case.
A man who addressed the survivors said they had been praying during the holy month of Ramadan and that the Muslim community would help and support each other during the coming weeks and months.
Tarrant has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in relation to the March 15 massacre.
Wearing a gray sweat shirt, Tarrant was shown being brought into the room by three prison officers. His link had been muted, and he didn’t attempt to speak. When Judge Cameron Mander asked if he could hear and see what was going on in the courtroom, Tarrant nodded.
Mander said that two mental-health assessments of Tarrant had been completed, and there were no issues in relation to the accused’s ability to enter pleas and stand trial. Such mental-health assessments are standard procedure in murder cases.
The judge scheduled a six-week trial to begin May 4. Tarrant will remain in custody ahead of his next hearing on Aug. 15.
In the March 15 attacks, 42 worshippers were killed at the Al Noor mosque and seven were killed at the Linwood mosque during Friday prayers. Two more people died later at the Christchurch Hospital.
The shooter livestreamed much of the attack on Facebook.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to say the accused man’s name. Last month she 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.


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 15 December 2019

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”