The sentencing hearing for the gunman who admitted to killing 51 worshippers in two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques last year will begin Monday, as survivors and the families of the victims will address a socially distant courtroom over the course of the next four days.
The gunman himself will also have an opportunity to address the court before he is sentenced, raising fears he could try to use the occasion as a platform to promote his White supremacist views.
Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 29, from Australia, pleaded guilty in March to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism — the first terrorism conviction in New Zealand’s history.
He dismissed his lawyers and will represent himself in the sentencing hearing. He could become the first person in New Zealand to be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Tarrant used legally purchased weapons to open fire at both the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch in March 2019. The mass shooting prompted new laws banning the deadliest types of semi-automatic weapons and also prompted global changes to social media protocols after the gunman live-streamed his attack on Facebook, where it was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.
Prosecutors said Tarrant also distributed a manifesto online before the attack voicing his hatred for Muslims and non-European immigrants and expressing a belief in the racist “great replacement theory.” His family reportedly believe Tarrant was radicalized while traveling through Eastern Europe at the age of 20 with inheritance money he received when his father died.
More than 60 survivors and family members of those killed will confront Tarrant in court this week.
The judge in charge of the case, Justice Cameron Mander, is not allowing live reporting from the sentencing and has reserved the right to ban some things that are said in court from being broadcast or published. The victims also can choose to remain anonymous.
“The court may determine what information can be published about a hearing and when it can be published,” Mander said, according to the New York Times. The rules “are determined that he does not do more damage to the victims, instigate further crimes, and the integrity of the court is not damaged.”
Any republication of the manifesto or video of the attack was also prohibited. Mander said he realized the court process had been “exhausting and frustrating” for many of the victims, but hoped “Finality and closure is considered by some as the best means of bringing relief to the Muslim community.”
Some victims have traveled from abroad to attend the court hearing and have completed a mandatory 14-day quarantine imposed because of the coronavirus. Social distancing requirements mean the number of survivors in the main courtroom will be limited to 35 at any one time. But the hearing will also be streamed to seven adjacent courtrooms, which can hold another 200 or so people.