On 27 August, the New Zealand High Court sentenced the mass killer of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings to life imprisonment without parole, the highest possible sentence. It is the first time such a sentence has been issued in the country.
High Court Judge Cameron Mander said that the shooter, Brenton Tarrant, was “empty of any empathy for [his] victims” and that his “actions were inhuman”.
On 15 March 2019, the shooter entered the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand and killed 51 people as a single gunman. He was a white supremacist from Australia and had been planning for an attack on the Islamic faith since he arrived to New Zealand in 2017.
He remained unremorseful during investigations and proceedings, initially refusing to plead guilty to his murder charges. In a surprise turn, he later decided to plead guilty and dismissed his legal team.
THE VICTIM STATEMENTS
During the 4-day sentencing hearing, many survivors of the mosque shootings and relatives of the deceased gave victim impact statements. In their statements, some prayed, some yelled at the shooter, and others remained weeping.
Nonetheless, they held a united tone of defiance against the shooter’s ideology of hate and division. “You thought you could break us, you failed miserably,” said Maysoon Salama, whose son Atta Elayyan was killed. “We became more determined to hold tight to Islam and our beloved ones are martyrs.”
This is the first time in New Zealand’s history that an imprisonment term of life without parole has been issued. Previously, New Zealand’s harshest term of imprisonment was 30 years without parole, issued in 2003 for a case of triple-murder.
[Read: Why an unprecedented sentence?]
The 2019 shootings led to New Zealand tightening gun laws, including a ban on most semiautomatic firearms as well as prompting a government buyback of weapons. The incident also led to a discussion about social media regulations globally (footage of the massacre was spread all over Facebook before being taken down).
“No punishment will bring our loved ones back”, said Gamal Fouda, Imam of the targeted Al Noor Mosque, after the sentence was passed down. “All extremists, they represent hate. But we are here today. We respect love, compassion, Muslim and non-Muslim people of faith and of no faith.”