New Zealand mosque attacker Tarrant to face 50 murder charges

Christchurch, New Zealand – The self-confessed white supremacist accused of killing 50 people at two Christchurch mosques last month has been charged with 50 counts of murder and 39 counts of attempted murder ahead of a court appearance on Friday.

Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian, was only charged with one murder when he first appeared in the Christchurch District Court the day after the shootings that took place on March 15.

However, the police were later forced to admit the person listed as the victim on the single murder charge was alive.

Thursday’s additional charges laid by the police could mean that, if found guilty, Tarrant could be the first person to be sentenced in a New Zealand court to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The 28-year-old, who will be representing himself, will appear in the High Court at Christchurch on Friday morning by video from a prison in Auckland, will have the opportunity to enter a plea. Otherwise, the short procedural hearing will be used to set dates for his future court appearances, including a possible trial date. 

The jumbled manifesto Tarrant published online before the killings and the live-streaming of the attack on Facebook have both been banned by New Zealand’s Chief Censor, the government officer in charge of censorship in the country.

Tarrant’s second court appearance comes three weeks after the attack, as the New Zealand government rushed to make changes to gun laws and investigate how he was able to carry out the attacks.

On Thursday, the government held a single day of public hearings as it rushed to implement new gun-control laws, due to be passed on April 11.

The law change – which enjoys broad support in the parliament – would ban most types of semi-automatic weapons, including those used in the March attacks. 

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At the same time, the government, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, is also settling on the terms of reference for a major, independent inquiry to be held into the attacks. That inquiry will scrutinise New Zealand’s security agencies, the police as well as social media networks.

Laws pertaining to hate speech are also being examined.

Tarrant was not on government watchlist in New Zealand or Australian. Some in the Muslim community said they had been the focus of New Zealand’s security services while white nationalists avoided the scrutiny.

The Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand raised fears to government agencies and politicians about harassment, discrimination and online abuse of Muslims for years before the attacks, according to the organisation’s spokesperson Anjum Rahman.

“I don’t believe they took appropriate and effective action,” Rahman told Al Jazeera.

“I don’t believe they provided the resources and the needed programmes. There was something done, but not enough.”

There are also calls for New Zealand to begin recording hate crimes, something the police have never done. 

“At the moment, if someone commits a crime against someone who is gay, or because of their religion, that’s recorded as an assault or a homicide,” said Janet Anderson-Bidois, legal manager for the Human Rights Commission, adding that the organisation has called on the government to record hate crimes for years.

“The physical act is recorded. But we don’t have a separate category for hate crime.

“We don’t know the scale of the problem, and it makes it much harder to address it because you’re relying on anecdotes.”

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