New Zealand serves justice with life sentence for mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant

New Zealand serves justice with life sentence for mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant
Clockwise from left: Al-Noor mosque shooting survivor Taj Mohammed Kamran reacts as he leaves the High Court after the last day of the sentencing hearing for Brenton Tarrant. // Survivors of the twin mosque shootings react as they arrive at Christchurch High Court. // Members of the public gather in front of the High Court to support relatives of victims killed in the 2019 twin mosque shootings. (AFP)
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Updated 28 August 2020

New Zealand serves justice with life sentence for mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant

New Zealand serves justice with life sentence for mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant
  • White supremacist killed 51 people during anti-Muslim shooting spree in Christchurch in March 2019
  • Thursday’s sentencing brought wave of shared relief at infamous chapter starting to come to an end

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealanders are hoping that the life sentence given to Brenton Tarrant — the mass killer who murdered 51 people during an anti-Muslim shooting spree last year — will bring an end to one of the darkest periods in the country’s recent history.

Tarrant, 29, was sentenced on Thursday to life imprisonment without parole.

The judge, Justice Cameron Mander, told the gunman he had been motivated by a “base hatred of people perceived to be different from yourself.”

He called Tarrant’s actions “inhuman,” saying the killer “showed no mercy.”




Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant attends his first day in court in Christchurch on August 24, 2020. (AFP)

The whole-of-life sanction, for killings that took place during Friday prayers last March at a mosque and nearby religious center, was a first for the South Pacific nation, which carried out its last execution in 1961 before abolishing the death penalty in the late 1980s.

Christchurch is an unlikely setting for a hate crime of such scale. In December 1850, four ships carrying British laborers and farmers “of reputable morals” arrived at New Zealand’s second-largest city, to establish what they cheerfully supposed to be a “better” class of Anglican-style life — decorous, devout and, as an old cliche used to have it, more English than England.

But there were always others in the cultural mix, too, not least the indigenous Maori tribesmen who staked out a claim to the land centuries earlier. More recently, and from the early 2000s in particular, Christchurch has been a destination of choice for eligible refugees, including many from the Middle East.

 

However, the Garden City also played host to Tarrant, a diminutive white supremacist who journeyed more than 2,000 miles from his native Australia to violently purge New Zealand of what he deemed to be “outsiders” — Muslim migrants, specifically.

Tarrant pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of engaging in an act of terrorism that he livestreamed on Facebook. These terrorist acts, unprecedented in the country’s criminal history, were carried out against Friday worshippers over a period of around 40 minutes at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center.

The killer’s lack of remorse at the sentencing — he declined an opportunity to speak on Wednesday and had previously sacked his appointed defense counsel — was as palpable as his lack of mercy on the day of the slaughter, the judge said.

THENUMBERS

NZ Mosque Shooting

* 51 Counts of murder to which Tarrant pleaded guilty.

* 1% Proportion of Muslims in New Zealand’s population.

* 1961 Year New Zealand abolished death penalty for murder.

* 1997 Mass shooting last occurred in NZ before Christchurch.

“You ignored the pleas of the wounded to be spared,” Mander said, shortly before telling Tarrant to stand for sentencing. “You advanced on them, stood over them and shot them.”

Tarrant’s largely expressionless face showed hints of boredom and, as always, a thinly veiled menace. The full extent of that menace was the major focus of the four-day sentencing hearing during which almost 90 victim impact statements were delivered to the court.

What emerged was that while Tarrant had succeeded in carrying out his deadly attack on the city’s two major Muslim community centers, his efforts inadvertently united not only those targeted but also the wider city of Christchurch and the indeed the entire nation of 5 million people.




A general view of the Al-Noor Mosque ahead of the last day of the sentencing hearing for Brenton Tarrant, the gunman who massacred 51 people during last year's twin mosque attacks, in Christchurch on August 27, 2020. (AFP)

Tarrant’s sentencing brought a wave of shared relief at an infamous chapter starting to come to an end.

“It has been 531 days that (our) community has had to hold a kind of silence,” Tony Green, a local Muslim who worked closely with Al Noor Mosque in the wake of the carnage, told Arab News.

The chance to finally speak had “lifted a great weight,” he said. “Reading the victim impact statements aloud has been empowering.”

 

In the lead-up to the testimonies, the prosecution for the first time presented a summary of the events of March 15, 2019.

The court heard that Tarrant self-financed a 15-month spending spree leading up to the carefully planned attacks, stockpiling high-powered weapons, military grade sighting systems and telescopic sights.

He bought more than 7,000 rounds of ammunition, police-style ballistic vests, military-style tactical shirts and a bayonet-style knife along with camouflage clothing and several rifles that he later modified before daubing the weapons with slogans, obscure European symbols and historical dates.

Tarrant’s Subaru vehicle was also packed with four modified petrol containers, which he planned to use to incinerate the mosques.

The prosecution’s summary included detailed descriptions of the killer calmly reloading an AR-15 rifle and pump-action shotgun before returning to check the dead and the dying, shooting many as he went.

 

Tarrant also spoke directly into the GoPro camera he had set up pointing toward his face, describing what he preposterously called a “firefight.”

This week, however, others did the speaking.

The range of accents was global. The court heard testimony from survivors who had come to Christchurch from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and the Palestinian diaspora, along with victims who traced their roots across much of Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, as well as Americans, Brits, Fijians and South Africans.

Most of those who spoke were Muslim, many talking in accents flecked with strong traces of the classic Kiwi twang after their years here. All remained proud to call their newfound country home. This was despite the fact — as one survivor, Azmat Hussain, put it — of having “never imagined this would happen in New Zealand, let alone Christchurch.”




Gamal Fouda (L), the Imam of the Al-Noor mosque and Muslim Association Canterbury President Mohamed Jama (R) leave the High Court. (AFP)

British-born Nathan Smith, a convert who cradled a dying three-year-old boy in his arms on the day, told Tarrant that his only enduring achievement may have been “to create shame for Europeans around the world” and in New Zealand.

“I will never forgive you,” he added.

Sara Qasem, a 25-year-old Palestinian teacher, said New Zealand would always be home, but the home had changed since the murder of her father, one of six Palestinians who died in the massacre. Qasem urged Tarrant to take a final look around the courtroom and ask himself who the real stranger was.

After the sentencing, hundreds of well-wishers gathered outside the courthouse to offer their own answer. Their responses came in celebratory performances of “All You Need is Love,” embraces and tears.

The Christchurch massacre prompted New Zealand to pass stricter gun laws and buy back certain types of weapons from owners. While truly good times here may still be a long way off, the ancient promise of the Canterbury skies is glimmering again, offering hope for this diverse nation’s future.

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David Cohen is a New Zealand-based reporter


UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations
Updated 27 February 2021

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable the unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination of millions of people in conflict areas.
The British-drafted resolution, cosponsored by 112 countries, reiterated the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts on the Security Council agenda, from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia.
It expressed concern that an appeal for cease-fires in all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which was first made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, “was not fully heeded.”
Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current council president, announced the result of the email vote because the council has been meeting virtually, saying the resolution “will help bring vaccines to 160 million people in conflict areas or displaced by conflict.”
“This is a first step,” she stressed, and it will require further international efforts.
But Woodward said the large number of cosponsors and unanimous council approval are “a strong testament to the international commitment to seeing this happen.”
“Obviously each of these situations will require further negotiations at country and even at field and local level,” she said. “and we’ve asked the secretary-general to report back where they encounter barriers in this.”
The resolution adopted Friday recognizes “that armed conflicts can exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic, and that inversely the pandemic can exacerbate the adverse humanitarian impact of armed conflicts, as well as exacerbating inequalities.”
It also recognizes “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, of COVID-19 and its variant strains, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”
The Security Council stressed that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines” authorized by the World Health Organization or regulatory authorities “is essential to end the pandemic.”
It also stressed “the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy” in vaccinations.
And it called for donations of vaccines from richer developed nations to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility, the ambitious WHO program to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.


Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country
Updated 27 February 2021

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country
  • Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun urged all countries to pressure the Myanmar military regime to restore democracy
  • His surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting

UNITED NATIONS: Myanmar’s UN ambassador strongly opposed the military coup in his country and appealed for the “strongest possible action from the international community” to immediately restore democracy, in a dramatic speech to the UN General Assembly Friday that drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body.
Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun began his statement saying he represented Aung San Suu Kyi’s “civilian government elected by the people” in November, and supported their fight for the end of military rule.
He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the Feb. 1 coup, and to refuse to recognize the military regime and ask its leaders to respect the free and fair elections in November won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. He also urged stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
“It is time for the military to immediately relinquish power and release those detained,” Tun said, agreeing with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that military coup “is not acceptable in this modern world and the coup must cease.”
“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” he vowed.
Tun’s surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting including ambassadors representing the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the new US ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield. She joined others in describing the speech as “courageous,” “powerful” and “brave.”
In her first appearance at the assembly since presenting her credentials to Guterres in Thursday, Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “stands in solidarity” with the people of Myanmar who are in the streets protesting the coup. And she reiterated President Joe Biden’s warning that “we will show the military that their actions have consequences” and demand to the military “to immediately relinquish power.”
In a tweet later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Myanmar by its former name Burma and said “the United States commends the courageous and clear statement” of Ambassador Tun, “and by those in Burma who are making their voices heard. We must all heed their call to restore democracy in Burma.”
The assembly meeting was called to hear a briefing from the UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who said it is time to “sound the alarm” about the coup and the military pushing democratic processes aside, violating the constitution, reversing reforms instituted by Suu Kyi, and arresting peaceful protesters, civil society representatives and members of the media.
She pointed to restrictions on the Internet and communication services and the detention of about 700 people according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, and she called “the use of lethal force and rising deaths unacceptable.”
The huge protests in the country are not about a fight between Suu Kyi’s party and the military, she said, “it is a fight without arms.”
Addressing diplomats in the General Assembly chamber by video link, Schraner Burgener urged “all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.”
The military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term that day, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her, President Win Myint and other top members of her government.
Myanmar’s military says it took power because November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the election commission, whose members have since been replaced by the ruling junta. The junta has said it will rule for a year under a state of emergency and then hold new polls.
Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly that democratically elected representatives were able to be sworn in according to the constitution on Feb. 4 and have formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungu Hluttaw (National Assembly), known as CRPH, and are seeking “to uphold their obligations to serve the people who voted for them.”
Tun began his remarks by reading a statement from CRPH stressing the legitimacy of the election results and declaring that the military overthrew the democratically elected government. He cited the massive opposition by the people, saying “now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar military.”
The CRPH, saying it represented some 80 parliamentarians, asked the UN, the Security Council and the international community “that aspires to build a peaceful and civilized global society to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people of Myanmar.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose neighboring country has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar and is its biggest trading partner, called on all parties to handle differences through dialogue “under the constitutional and legal framework,” avoid violence, “and continue to promote the domestic democratic transformation process in an orderly manner.”
Never mentioning the military or a coup and describing what happened in Myanmar as “in essence Myanmar’s internal affairs,” he said the international community should help the parties “bridge their differences and solve problems.”
Zhang backed efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Myanmar belongs to, “in playing an active role in easing the current state of affairs.”
ASEAN countries are discussing holding an informal foreign ministers meeting and “we look forward to its early convening on the basis of consensus, thus providing a useful platform and opportunity for promoting problem solving,” he said.


UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive
Updated 26 February 2021

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive
  • Campaigner tells Arab News he welcomes “proactive” approach to reaching Muslim communities
  • Report: British Asians have highest mortality rate during second wave of COVID-19

LONDON: A night-time vaccine drive is reportedly being planned by the UK government during Ramadan, following reports that the country’s Asian community had the highest mortality rate during the second wave of COVID-19.
The government hopes to mitigate a potential vaccine uptake drop-off by Muslims during the holy month, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Ramadan 2021 will begin on April 12, a critical time in the UK’s vaccine rollout and just three days before the government’s planned date to have offered all over 50s the jab.
Concerns over the impact of Ramadan on vaccine uptake are compounded by a government report that British Asians, many of whom are Muslim, are the demographic with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate per 100,000 people in the UK’s second wave.
“A large part of this continued disparity for South Asian populations can be explained from geographic, socioeconomic and health factors,” the report read.
Kawsar Zaman, founder of the Take the COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign, told Arab News that he welcomes the government’s “proactive” approach in reaching out to and inoculating the UK’s Muslim community.
“I think the plan is excellent. Anything that we can do to promote uptake, particularly within communities where we’ve found it difficult to encourage people to take the vaccine, is positive,” he said.
“Particularly during Ramadan, where nine times out of 10 people are awake late into the night and early morning, anything that makes receiving the jab more accessible is great news.”
Zaman also hailed the government’s outreach to, and consultation with, Britain’s Muslim communities throughout the country’s world-leading vaccine rollout.
“What’s quite unique about this vaccine drive is that they’re being proactive about it, as well as consulting with a very wide range of people in many communities, including the Muslim community — which isn’t always the case,” he said.
Zaman singled out for praise Nadhim Zahawi, who is in charge of the UK’s vaccine rollout, saying he has done “a lot of really good work” and has been “very open in meeting with communities.” Zaman added: “What’s great here is that they’re listening first, then acting.”


Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker
Updated 27 February 2021

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker
  • Vessel was seized along with Panamanian ship in January
  • Crew members face charges including violation of the right to innocent passage

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities said on Friday that firearms and ammunition have been found on an Iranian supertanker, one of the two vessels seized in the country’s waters over a suspected illegal oil transfer last month.
The Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Freya were impounded by the Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) in waters bordering the South China Sea off Pontianak, West Kalimantan province, on Jan. 24, over suspicions of illegal fuel transfer between ships, polluting the water with oil, violation of the right of innocent passage, turning off their identification systems, illegal anchorage, and not flying their national flags.
On Friday, authorities said they had also found weapons on the Iranian tanker. “Investigators found a sniper rifle, three assault rifles, two pistols, and ammunition on the Iranian-flagged tanker MT Horse,” Bakamla spokesperson Col. Wisnu Pramandita told Arab News.
Earlier on Friday, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said during a joint press conference with Bakamla that all other suspicions had also been confirmed.
“We concluded they deliberately did all those violations, and they were caught doing them in tandem,” he said, as Bakamla chief Vice Admiral Aan Kurnia told reporters that the two tankers had trespassed 25 nautical miles into Indonesia’s territorial waters when the agency caught them.
The tankers were impounded after a patrol ship detected an idle signal indicating that the automatic identification system of the vessels was turned off. When Bakamala personnel arrived at the location they caught the tankers conducting a ship-to-ship fuel transfer from MT Horse to MT Freya, with their hulls covered to conceal their identities.
The vessels have been anchored at Bakamla’s base in Batam, Riau Islands province near Singapore, since their seizure.
Investigators are still questioning 25 crew from the MT Horse and 36 Chinese crew members of the MT Freya, which is managed by a Shanghai-based company.
Deputy Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Sugeng Purnomo said the inter-departmental task force investigating the case will soon press charges against the suspects. 
In the wake of the incident, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has ordered stricter law enforcement in the country’s waters, ministry spokesperson Adita Irawati told Arab News.
“We are committed to enforcing the law on Indonesia’s territorial waters, in accordance also with the international law as enforced by the International Maritime Organization,” Irawati said.


Cases of vaccine easing long COVID reported

Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 26 February 2021

Cases of vaccine easing long COVID reported

Britain has put millions of pounds into studying the long term effects of COVID-19. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Doctors call for formal studies of what is currently anecdotal evidence
  • Expert: ‘This is a very interesting and potentially important observation’

LONDON: Anecdotal reports that people with long COVID are making dramatic recoveries after being vaccinated are intriguing and should be followed up with formal studies, according to scientists.

While most people recover quickly from COVID-19, roughly one in 10 people experience symptoms that include fatigue, headaches and shortness of breath three months later — a phenomenon known as long COVID.

But some of these patients are reporting rapid improvements to their health after receiving the vaccine, doctors have said.

“This is a very interesting and potentially important observation,” said Charles Bangham, who holds the chair in immunology at Imperial College London. “At present these are just anecdotes, and systematic studies would be needed, but anecdotes can sometimes point the way to important discoveries.”

Prof. Ian Hall, who runs a long COVID clinic in Nottingham, said he has been contacted by several patients who told him their symptoms improved dramatically after a jab.

It is possible, he said, that being vaccinated gives some people a “psychological boost” that causes them to feel better.

“But I think, anecdotally, that there is enough here to suggest that there might be some interesting consequences of the vaccine, presumably altering the immunological balance, which is contributing to resolution of low-grade inflammation, which is making people feel better,” he added.

“I would not go as far as to say it proves a connection, but science is based upon following up interesting observations.”

The World Health Organization has warned that the burden of long COVID is “real” and “significant.”

King’s College London is running a project tracking 600,000 people who have received COVID-19 vaccines.

The study’s lead scientist Tim Spector said he hopes to have data on how vaccines affect long COVID within weeks.