The 29-year-old has 51 lives on his conscience. He receives a sentence that is unique in New Zealand: life imprisonment without parole.
The Christchurch assassin is imprisoned for the rest of his life. Judge Cameron Mander sentenced the 29-year-old right-wing extremist from Australia on Thursday to life imprisonment with no early release option. With the verdict after a four-day hearing, one and a half years after the attacks on two mosques with 51 dead and 50 injured, one of the darkest chapters in the recent history of the Pacific state is at least legally closed.
“You were motivated by a general hatred of people who you believe are different from yourself. (…) They pose a great risk to public safety,” Mander said before the sentence was announced. The defendant followed the judge’s statements with no apparent emotion.
Prosecutor Mark Zarifeh had previously also pleaded for life without parole. There has never been a sentence like this in New Zealand. Zarifeh stressed that the attacks were “a painful and harrowing moment in New Zealand history”. He also emphasized how underhanded the perpetrator had acted: “Many of those who were shot kneeled in prayer and had their backs turned to the shooter.” Both the prosecutor and the judge stated that the defendant was completely lacking in empathy.
The assassin attacked two mosques in New Zealand in March 2019, killing 51 people. 50 others were injured, some of them life-threatening. The perpetrator transmitted the meticulously planned massacre to the Internet using a helmet camera. The crime is considered to be the most devastating in recent history of the Pacific state. Many survivors still suffer from the consequences, are unable to work or have to live with severe pain. As a result, the government tightened gun laws.
The 29-year-old had initially pleaded not guilty after the fact, but suddenly pleaded guilty on all counts in March. There was therefore no main hearing. He was charged with 51 murders, 40 attempted murders and terrorism. The extremist is the first accused to be convicted under the Terrorism Suppression Act of 2002.
He had previously refrained from expressing himself in court. The announcement allayed months of fears that the defendant could use the courtroom for self-expression and as a platform for spreading right-wing extremist views. Instead, a compulsory attorney read out a brief statement stating that the defendant would not oppose a life sentence without parole.
Several dozens of those affected were in the courtroom while the verdict was being delivered. Hundreds more followed her via live stream. Snipers were positioned on the roof of the High Court in Christchurch, and the security presence was huge.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the verdict. “I hope today is the last day on which we have reason to hear or speak the name of the terrorist behind it,” said the 40-year-old. “He deserves complete silence for life.”
Ardern also paid tribute to the strength of the Muslim community. In the past few days, more than 80 survivors and bereaved relatives made statements in court. In emotional statements they often addressed the perpetrator directly. Many had urged the judge to imprison the assassin forever.
Those affected relived the terrible events to report what happened that day and the pain they left behind, said Ardern. “Nothing will take the pain away, but I hope you have felt the arms of New Zealand around you throughout this process”.