One year after mosque massacre, New Zealand is fighting rising hate

Above, an armed policeman stands guard in front of the Masjid Al Noor Mosque, one of those attacked by right-wing extremist, in Christchurch in this March 16, 2019 photo. (AFP)
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Updated 14 March 2020

One year after mosque massacre, New Zealand is fighting rising hate

  • Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national, faces 92 charges in relation to the attacks on Al Noor and Linwood mosques
  • Attack inspired far right nationalists and anti-immigration campaigners to be more active both online and offline

WELLINGTON: Days before the first anniversary of a shooting in Christchurch that killed 51 Muslim worshippers, a post appeared on an encrypted messaging app showing a balaclava-clad man outside one of the attacked mosques with a threat and a gun emoji.
The message was the latest in a number of threats against minorities in New Zealand, evidence of what experts say is an increase in hate crime and xenophobia since the mosque massacre by a suspected white supremacist on March 15 last year.
The gunman, armed with semi-automatic weapons, attacked Muslims attending Friday prayers in the South Island’s largest city, broadcasting New Zealand’s worst mass shooting live on Facebook.
Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national, faces 92 charges in relation to the attacks on Al Noor and Linwood mosques. He has pleaded not guilty and faces trial in June.
New Zealand’s extraordinary outpouring of love and compassion for the Muslim community after the attack was led from the front by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She swiftly introduced new gun laws and started a global movement to stamp out online hate in a response that was hailed as a model for other leaders.
But the attack also inspired far right nationalists and anti-immigration campaigners to be more active both online and offline, according to Muslim leaders, activists and experts.
“The attack certainly emboldened people who want to spread hate,” said Anjum Rahman from the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand.
The council has repeatedly alerted the government in the past year about the rise of the extreme right and the growing threat felt by Muslim women in New Zealand.
Rahman reported the latest threat against the Al Noor mosque to police after she was shown the image which was being shared on the encrypted social media messaging app Telegram.
Police said a 19-year-old man was charged with failing to assist police with a search warrant in relation to the incident and would appear in court later this month.
Local media reports have linked the man to a white nationalist group called Action Zealandia, which was formed in July 2019, just months after the Christchurch attack. On its website it says it is focused on “building a community for European New Zealanders.”
In response to the incident, Action Zealandia said in a statement on Twitter the alleged actions of the accused are not within its code of conduct and was “immature and unproductive as we do not use violence to reach our goals.”
Police said they were working to ensure they have an in-depth knowledge of individuals and groups whose actions pose a threat but did not comment on any specific group.
In a parliamentary committee meeting chaired by Ardern last month, New Zealand’s spy chief laid down the growing challenge since the attack.
“It (the attack) has given encouragement to some people, it has been inspirational to other people, and so it remains still quite a fluid picture,” NZ Security Intelligence Service Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge told the committee, according to transcripts of the meeting seen by Reuters.
“We have got more information about more people who are expressing extremist views than we had before 15 March, and some of those people existed beforehand, and then there is the impact of the attacks themselves afterwards,” she said.
Between 30 and 50 people are being actively investigated by the agency at any given moment for posing a terror threat, a higher number than in previous years.
Kitteridge said between March 15 and the end of June 2019 the spy agency received leads about people who had expressed racist, Nazi, identitarian, or white supremacist views.
A survey by online safety agency Netsafe in December showed hate speech online increased in New Zealand in the last 12 months, with about 15 percent of the adult population targeted with online hate.
Offline too, white supremacist posters have appeared in Auckland universities in the past few weeks leading up to the March 15 memorial.
There are about 60 to 70 groups and somewhere between 150 and 300 core right-wing activists in New Zealand, said Paul Spoonley, from Massey University, who has been researching far-right extremism for decades.
Proportionate to population the number was similar in size to far-right activists in Germany, he said.
“New Zealand is now part of an international far-right ecosystem in a way that you can’t have said 20 years ago,” Spoonley said.
“We do well on the league tables for tolerance, but that does not mean there are no extreme elements,” he said.
Ardern said she was “devastated” by the latest threats against Al Noor mosque and it indicated that more the work needed to be done.
“We have to get back to the basics of why is it that people would feel that they can make those kinds of threats against other people’s lives,” she told reporters.
A big part of the problem was that unlike the United States or Britain, New Zealand has never recorded specific hate crime offenses, raising questions about what signs security agencies may have missed.
Police have now started recording instances of offenses that appear to be motivated by hate, Justice Minister Andrew Little told Reuters.
The ministry is also reviewing the country’s hate speech laws, although these plans have been challenged by groups who say free speech would be curtailed by such laws.
“Further work is needed on where the line on free speech is drawn. But I anticipate a balanced approach will be taken when the review process is complete,” Little said.
A decision is expected within months.


Militants attack in Indian Kashmir as it locks down for anniversary

Updated 05 August 2020

Militants attack in Indian Kashmir as it locks down for anniversary

  • Authorities blanketed Kashmir with troops, who laid out barbed wire and set up road blacks to prevent demonstrations
  • Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it

SRINAGAR, India: Militants attacked Indian security forces with a grenade and gunfire in Kashmir on Wednesday, defying a strict security lockdown on the first anniversary of the government’s scrapping of the disputed Himalayan region’s autonomy.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, police said.
Authorities blanketed Kashmir with troops, who laid out barbed wire and set up road blacks to prevent demonstrations a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped India’s only Muslim-majority state of its special rights.
The government said the change was necessary to develop the strife-torn region and integrate it with the rest of India but it infuriated many Kashmiris and neighboring Pakistan.
Some critics saw it as part of a pattern by the Hindu-nationalist government aimed at sidelining Muslims. The government denies that.
Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. Militants have been fighting Indian rule in its part of Kashmir since 1989 in a conflict that has killed at least 50,000 dead, according to official figures.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was due to travel to the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir to mark the anniversary later on Wednesday.
He reiterated a long-standing Pakistani appeal for international intervention to help resolve the dispute over Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors that has bedevilled their ties since the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
“It is imperative that the international community steps in immediately and backs its words of condemnation with practical steps that will force India to reverse its present course against the Kashmiri people,” he said in a statement.
India has ruled out any outside mediation over Kashmir.
In Srinagar, a handful of members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gathered at their headquarters to unfurl an Indian flag to mark the occasion. The party had long campaigned for ending Kashmir’s special status.
Party spokesman Altaf Thakur said similar celebrations took place in all district headquarters in the territory. “It is an important and historic day for our party,” Thakur told Reuters.
Elsewhere in Srinagar, police and paramilitary troops enforced the strictest lockdown for several months, stopping public movements, including a proposed meeting of politicians.
“One year later the authorities are still too afraid to allow us to meet, much less carry out any normal political activity. This fear speaks volumes about the true situation on the ground in Kashmir,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah said on Twitter.
Last August’s change in status in Indian Kashmir was accompanied by a communication blackout, widespread restrictions and mass detentions, including of elected leaders.
Most of those measures have been eased, although Internet speeds are still restricted. More recently, many families have been confined indoors because of coronavirus lockdowns. (Additional reporting by Sheree Sardar in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)