Conflict drives global rise in sexual violence against women

Attack A woman rests at a camp for people fleeing conflict in the Congolese province of Kasai. Photograph: John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images

Sexual violence is on the increase both inside and outside of wartime contexts and women remain the primary victims, warns new research.

In their report, researchers from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (Acled) analysed data gathered from 400 recorded sexual violence events that occurred between January 2018 and June 2019.

They found an overall increase in reported events where the offender directly targeted women and girls; in only 5% of cases were the victims male.

At 140, the total number of reported events nearly doubled in the first three months of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018.

The report’s authors said this was “largely due to an upward trend in violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which consistently registers high levels of reported sexual violence”.

Dr Roudabeh Kishi, director of research at Acled, said: “It is important to remember that sexual violence in or outside of conflict remains a pressing issue for victims, regardless of gender or age.”

Identifying that the primary perpetrators of public, political sexual attacks were regional political militias followed by state forces, Acled compared statistics for 2018 and 2019 in order to identify high-risk regions where women are more vulnerable to attack.

In 2018, the Democratic Republic of the Congo topped the list followed by South Sudan, Burundi, India and Sudan. By 2019, the list had changed, with India rising to second place behind the DRC. South Sudan and Burundi followed, with Mozambique and Zimbabwe in equal fifth position.

In both years, researchers found that events were often accompanied by lethal attacks, especially during armed conflict.

Breaking down the data into regions, Acled found that the largest proportion of reported events were committed by political militias, anonymous or unidentified armed groups in Africa and south Asia. In the Middle East, south-east Asia, eastern and south-eastern Europe and the Balkans, events were carried out by state forces.

In the same time period, more than 100 government-perpetrated sexual violence events were recorded, which accounted for more than a quarter of all incidents that occurred or were most common in India, the DRC, Myanmar, South Sudan, Burundi, and Sudan.

There are no comprehensive statistics for the number of women and men subjected to sexual violence during conflict, but the figures are believed to be in the thousands

According to Acled, women are frequently targeted during political violence, which makes up only one-third of all events involving violence targeting women and extends beyond sexual violence, where they say that levels of organised violence are high.

However, even where they identified that organised violence was not the primary objective, women often still face high levels of targeting outside of conventional conflict: for example, attempts by a state to enforce order through repression, or a mob targeting a woman accused of indecency. Such instances have arisen in Burundi and Pakistan, which provide indicative case studies.

“On the heels of commemorating the international day for the elimination of sexual violence in conflict, we need the support of states to hold perpetrators accountable,” said Kishi.

“It is damning to find that some states are among the primary perpetrators of such violence themselves. Impunity plays a troubling role in the continuation of such violence.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/jun/28/congo-abuses-drive-global-rise-in-sexual-violence-against-women

DRC Ebola outbreak still not global emergency, says WHO

EbolaThe current outbreak is the second-deadliest in history [Al-hadji Kudra Maliro/AP]

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) does not qualify as an international threat, even though cases have been confirmed in neighbouring Uganda.

“It was the view of the committee that the outbreak is a health emergency in DRC and the region, but does not meet the criteria for a public health emergency of international concern,” the United Nations health agency’s expert committee said in a statement on Friday after an emergency meeting.

Despite the outcome of the deliberations, “this outbreak is very much an emergency,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a Geneva press conference via telephone from the DRC.

The virus has killed more than 1,400 people since its outbreak – the second-deadliest in history – was declared in August last year after emerging in eastern DRC’s northern Kivu and Ituri provinces.

To be declared a global emergency, an outbreak must constitute a risk to other countries and require a coordinated response. The declaration typically triggers more funding and political attention.

Speaking from the DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said there was now a stronger political engagement to make sure the outbreak was contained.

“It will take longer than originally anticipated,” she told Al Jazeera.

“However, we still believe that it can be contained. It will need a multi-facet response not a simple public health response as had initially been thought. But we anticipate that it will eventually be contained.”

Uganda cases

On Thursday, the WHO acknowledged that it had been unable to track the origins of nearly half of new Ebola cases in the DRC, suggesting it did not know where the virus was spreading.

The United Nations health agency said on Thursday that two people had died in Uganda after arriving with the disease from the DRC.

Its expert committee has met twice previously to consider the situation in the DRC. In April, the WHO said the outbreak was of “deep concern” but officials were “moderately optimistic” it could be contained within a “foreseeable time.”

The outbreak, occurring close to the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, has been like no other. Community mistrust has been high and attacks by rebel groups have undermined aid efforts.

Experts say people are still dying outside of Ebola treatment centres, exposing their families to the disease, and many do not appear on lists of known contacts being monitored.

“Vaccines alone can’t work if community hides cases due to distrust. Violence persists. We are in this for the long haul,” Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, said, referring to deadly attacks on health facilities in the DRC.

According to the WHO, more than 100 attacks on treatment centres and health workers in the DRC have been recorded since the beginning of this year.

As the far deadlier 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak raged in West Africa, the WHO was heavily criticised for not declaring a global emergency until nearly 1,000 people had died and the virus had spread to at least three countries.

Internal WHO documents later showed that the agency feared the declaration would have economic and social implications for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. More than 11,300 people died in the three countries.

Before the WHO panel’s move, Axelle Ronsse, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, had expressed uncertainty whether a declaration would help. She said outbreak responders, including the WHO, should reevaluate their strategies to contain the spiralling outbreak.

“It’s quite clear that it’s not under control,” she said. “Now may be the time to reset and see what should be changed at this point.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/dangerous-iran-denies-claims-gulf-tankers-190614151217769.html

A young family left El Salvador for a better life. Their tragedy encapsulates the immigration crisis

OscarÓscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez left San Salvador with his wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos and 23-month-old daughter Angie Valeria for a better future in the US. Photograph: handout El Salvadorian authorities

When Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez told his mother that he was planning to take his wife and young daughter from their home on the outskirts of the San Salvador and head north to the United States, she felt a shiver of foreboding.

“I had a feeling,” said Rosa Ramírez, 46. “An ugly premonition.”

But Óscar was eager to follow his dream of a better future for his wife Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, and their 23-month-old daughter Angie Valeria. The family set out in April, heading for Mexico. “I told him to take it step by step,” Ramírez told the Guardian. “But he got impatient.”

Twelve weeks later, Óscar and Angie Valeria drowned in each others arms as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande and reach US soil. A harrowing photograph of the two bodies lying in shallow water cast a harsh spotlight on the region’s migration crisis, and once again underlined the dangers facing families seeking to escape poverty, violence and corruption in Central America.

Pope Francis expressed his “immense sadness” at the accident, while in the US, the image turned up the heat on a bitter partisan debate over immigration.

Back at the family’s neatly-painted brick house, Ramírez was left struggling with her loss. “I feel a huge emptiness,” she said. A purple stuffed monkey and baby doll that belonged Angie Valeria still lay on a chair in the living room.

The last time she spoke to Óscar was on Saturday, when he called from Mexico. He told her he was fine – as he had in every phone call since they set out. In retrospect, she wonders if he said so only to calm her worries.

The next morning the couple arrived in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, where they attempted to seek asylum at the port of entry. They were turned away and decided to cross the river which divides Mexico from the US. Óscar crossed first with Angie Valeria, then turned back to help Ávalos, but the little girl followed him into the water; Óscar tried to save her, but the current swept them both away.

They were found on Monday, just half a mile (1km) from an international bridge, Valeria tucked inside her father’s T-shirt – presumably in an attempt to stay together. For Ramírez, the photograph is a source of pain but also a measure of comfort.

“It’s tough … that image. But at the same time, it fills me with tenderness. I feel so many things, because at no time did he let go of her.”

“You can see how he protected her,” she told the Associated Press. “They died in each other’s arms.”

Relatives and neighbours remembered Óscar as a young man who was dedicated to his role as a father and husband.

Unlike many Salvadoran migrants, his decision to migrate was not prompted by the rampant criminality which besets this Central American country. Altamira, the neighbourhood where Óscar and Tania lived, is dominated by a street gang, but locals said that violence had somewhat decreased in recent months.

Both parents had jobs – Óscar had a minimum-wage job at a pizzeria, while Ávalos worked as a cashier in a fast-food restaurant – but the two incomes were just not enough for them to buy a place of their own.

“They went looking for a better life and then this tragedy happened,” said Cecilia Rodriguez, 23, who sells tortillas near the family’s house. Óscar was a regular customer, and would often bring his daughter with him.

At 23 months, Angie Valeria still didn’t talk much, but she was always laughing, Rodriguez said. “When he was off work, I saw that he was always here with his family,” she said.

Moises Gómez was a childhood friend of Óscar’s; as boys they had spent their time watching videos and listening to music, although the two had seen much less of each other since Angie Valeria’s birth. “I felt bad when I heard,” said Gómez, 22. “He was a friend all my life, so it hurt. And his daughter was so young.”

“We never thought this would happen,” said neighbor Marta Argueta de Andrade, 63, who said Angie Valeria would often stand on the family’s couch propped against the window so that she could wave to Argueta.

Argueta always saw father and daughter together, usually going on walks to the store. “Maybe they should have stayed – but no one knows that when they leave,” she said.

Argueta said that recently her grandson, who just turned 21, has also been thinking of migrating to the US.

“So many leave here because of the desperation and poverty. They can’t find work,” she said. Young men are particularly vulnerable in the gang-controlled neighborhood. “You hear that they’ve killed one person and then another and it makes you scared,” Argueta said.

But now she is just as worried for her grandson to try to go to the US. “With the tragedy that has happened, I would tell him that he shouldn’t go,” she said.

Gómez said he had also been considering leaving for the US.

“I’ve always had the dream of going to the US. and coming back to buy a house and making sure that my mom doesn’t lack anything,” said Gómez. “But after seeing the suffering of this family, not anymore.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/26/a-young-family-left-el-salvador-for-a-better-life-their-tragedy-focused-the-immigration-crisis

 

When They See Us: Central Park Five prosecutor resigns from college post

Park Image captionElizabeth Lederer’s prosecution of five black and Hispanic teenagers for a rape they did not commit was overturned in 2002

The prosecutor of five teenagers convicted for the brutal rape of a female jogger in 1989 – depicted in Netflix’s When They See Us – has left her job at at Columbia Law School.

Lawyer Elizabeth Lederer led the prosecution, but in Ava DuVernay’s series she is seen expressing doubts about their guilt.

The boys, known as the Central Park Five, said police coerced them into confessing and were exonerated in 2002.

They were all black and Hispanic.

Columbia University’s Black Students Organisation had set up a petition asking the school to fire Ms Lederer amid outcry generated by the series.

The New York Times reported that the school’s dean emailed students saying Ms Lederer “decided not to seek reappointment as a lecturer”.

She is also a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Gillian Lester, the dean of the school, said Ms Lederer wrote that the Netflix series had “reignited a painful – and vital – national conversation about race, identity, and criminal justice.”

The New York Times said the email included a statement from Ms Lederer saying she had enjoyed her years teaching at Columbia but would not be returning.

She said: “Given the nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case, it is best for me not to renew my teaching application.”

The BBC has contacted Ms Lederer, Columbia Law School and Manhattan district attorney’s office for comment.

When They See Us, a four-part mini-series, has proved hugely popular on Netflix, and in the US the series has been the streaming service’s most-watched show since it debuted. In the UK it is the second-most watched after Black Mirror.

What happened in the Central Park Five case?

The victim, a white 28-year-old investment banker, was severely beaten, raped and left for dead in a bush. She had no memory of it.

Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise – then aged between 14 and 16 – were arrested and interrogated for hours without access to lawyers or their parents.

They confessed to the crime but later recanted, saying their admissions were the result of police coercion.

The 1989 interrogation was conducted by another prosecutor and police.

The convictions were overturned in 2002 after a serial violent offender named Matias Reyes confessed to the attack and said he had acted alone.

A US judge in 2014 approved a $41m (£32m) settlement between the five and New York City.

This is the second job loss for someone connected with the case since the series was released.

On 4 June, Linda Fairstein, a former US prosecutor involved in the case, resigned from several boards.

She observed the teenagers’ 1989 interrogation, which was conducted by another prosecutor and police. She was Manhattan’s sexual crimes top prosecutor at the time, and has since maintained they were not coerced and defended the authorities’ conduct.

When They See Us inspired a #CancelLindaFairstein movement on social media amid renewed outcry over her role in the case.

On 8 June, Ms Fairstein, who is now a crime novelist and children’s author, was dropped by her publisher.

Two days later she wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Ava DuVernay’s miniseries wrongly portrays them as totally innocent – and defames me in the process.”

Ava Duvernay was asked about Linda Fairstein during an interview by Oprah Winfrey, and said: “I think that it’s important that people be held accountable.”

But she added: “She is part of a system that’s not broken, it was built to be this way… the real thing that we are all trying to do.. is to be able to say, ‘Go America…Let’s do this. Let’s change this.’

“You can’t change what you don’t know, so we came together to show you what you may not know.”

“That’s our goal.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48637219

Liberian priest’s wide-ranging accusations against two bishops include sexual harassment

HarrassementCredit: Fotos593/Shutterstock.

. Liberian Church leaders have visited the Vatican after a priest claimed to have been mentally and psychologically abused by two bishops, reportedly in retaliation against him for refusing sexual relations.

Father Gabriel Sawyer, who has since left ministry and attempted to marry, made the accusations against Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of Monrovia and Bishop Andrew Karnley of Cape Palmas in an Aug. 15, 2018 letter to the apostolic nuncio to Liberia, Archbishop Dagoberto Campos Salas.

Archbishop Zeigler declined comment to Front Page Africa, while Bishop Karnley characterized Sawyer’s claims as “a campaign of lies and falsehoods against me.”

The visit took place the last week of May, the news site Crux reported. The Vatican meeting included Bishop Anthony Borwah of Gbarnga, who heads the Liberian bishops’ conference; Father Dennis Cephus Nimene, secretary of the bishops’ conference; and Campos, the nuncio.

The alleged victim said in his letter to the nuncio that the harassment was constant and systematic for over 14 years.

In a May 23 Front Page Africa / New Narratives report, the priest said he was left destitute and waited for a year and a half for an investigation. He claims to have then attempted to marry a friend in February 2019 “to protect my own life.” He said he faced threats and he accused his ecclesiastical superiors of refusing to provide him with necessary healthcare.

“Once the information got out they were sending me threatening messages,” he said. “I am the first person to speak out on these homosexuality and sex abuse charges. And these things have haunted the Church for years. I felt it is time someone speaks out about them.”

Sawyer said the retaliatory incidents involving Karnley lasted more than two decades, dating back to his time as a seminarian when Karnley was vocations director.

Karnley made sexual advances towards him “continuously” when they traveled by car together, Sawyer alleged.

In one incident, Sawyer said, Karnley tried to touch him sexually when he was half-asleep in his room. When he refused the bishop further sexual activity, the retaliation began, the priest claims.

“He quietly and calmly left my room, telling me at the same time, that he will make sure that I did not become a priest,” said the priest, who said the previous Archbishop of Monrovia, Michael Francis, assigned him to another priest for evaluation before approving his ordination to the priesthood. Francis died in 2013.

Sawyer said he kept quiet “in order to save my vocation.” He said he discussed the retaliatory behavior with his classmates, though not Karnley’s alleged sexual advances.

Karnley, 52, has served as Bishop of Cape Palmas since 2011. He was a priest of the Archdiocese of Liberia, and was its apostolic administrator from 2005-2009.

The 75-years-old Zeigler has been Monrovia’s archbishop since 2011. He is the former Bishop of Gbarnga.

New Narratives said it has interviewed five other priests and lay people who affirmed Sawyer suffered abuse from the two bishops. These alleged witnesses asked for their identities to be withheld for fear of retribution from Church leadership.

Moses Carter, a spokesman for the Liberia National Police, affirmed that the country’s laws will be enforced if anyone is convicted, explaining, “If any individual in the Catholic Church commits an act it does not becloud the entire church said individual must be made to face the full weight of the law.”

“Whoever claims they were sodomized or attempts were made on them, the law is always there for everyone. They can come over to the (Liberia National Police),” said Carter.

Liberia’s penal code bars “involuntary sodomy,” classifying as a third-degree felony “deviate sexual intercourse” or causing someone to engage in such intercourse. It is unclear whether the law would apply in Sawyer’s case.

Sawyer has also charged that the archbishop abused his power and refused him leave to go to Ghana for treatment for an illness.

The harassment was so severe it has caused him “untold sufferings and mental disorders,” he charged, including “psychological breakdown” and even a periodic “state of paralysis.” He also suffers from acute gastrointestinal disorder.

Explaining his sex abuse claim against Zeigler, Sawyer said the archbishop “told me that I was looking nice and he loves me.” It appears to be based in the archbishop’s recommendation that “I should make time available to visit him at his house,” which Sawyer said he realized meant “something else.” In Sawyer’s account, the bishop later repeated such a proposal.

“This time I told him I was not interested and cannot reduce myself to that level. I was so upset and left his office without discussing what I went to see him about,” the priest said.

Another priest speaking anonymously to Front Page Africa said that Zeigler has professed his innocence of the allegations in meetings with clergy.

Karnley told Front Page Africa, “I challenge Father Sawyer in the name of God to take me to any court and prove it, not only him but any man living or dead.”

News reports cited a leaked email to Sawyer from Bishop Borwah, dated Dec. 4, 2018, that appears to show Borwah asking Sawyer to “please keep things away from the media, public and the court.”

The bishop, who was ordained a priest of the Monrovia archdiocese in 1996, appeared to want the priest’s side heard.

“You have the right to be listened to and protected by the Church,” said the bishop, who pledged his help to bring the process to a successful conclusion “as much as I can with God’s help.”

Sawyer has supporters and detractors.

One lay Catholic, Aaron Weah, told Front Page Africa he supported “a strong and impartial investigation.”

“I believe that if they are verified to be lies it will help the Church. If these acts are actually happening in the Church and they can be verified and authenticated it will also help our faith,” Weah said.

Others were critical of the accuser.

“I think it is misinformation,” Solo Otto Gaye, a journalist and a Catholic who volunteers with the Cape Palmas diocese, said of Sawyer’s claims. “This is hard to believe because (the) bishop is an African man from the village. I run his social media page. I have gone from village to village with him. We even sleep together. If he is gay I would know.”

Some reactions came from the pulpit.

“What you are hearing is because an individual is hurt and decided to smear the image of the church,” Sacred Heart Cathedral’s administrator, Father Alphonsus Momoh, said to a Sunday congregation in Monrovia. “One day the truth will be told by the one who told the lie. Some believe it, some don’t and some are standing firm.”

He attributed the controversy to greed and a desire for money, saying, “Nobody wants to go through the proper channel. You will go and tarnish the name of the institution you belong to. There is no trust. We find in our midst- pulling down each other.”

A division of the Catholic fraternity Knights of St. John International, based at the same cathedral, expelled a member who spoke to the press about the matter and criticized the Church.

Sawyer said harassment continued after his ordination, though indirectly. He charged that Karnley and his allies conspired to oust him from his parish assignment, leaving him destitute and forced to beg for money at times.

His letter objected that the bishop’s office provided him insufficient funds to secure a visa to the U.K. for studies, and provided insufficient funds to support him while studying in the U.K., which similarly forced him to beg.

Upon his return, he was assigned to pastors who failed to provide his basic material needs. Sawyer contended his assignment as an associate priest after having served as pastor was non-canonical and a “total abuse of ecclesiastical power.”

A pastor he served under, he said, called the bishop and falsely reported that Sawyer threatened to kill the pastor “with a cutlass.” Sawyer also claimed that Karnley falsely accused him of having affairs with women, because of his refusal of sexual advances.

Sawyer claimed that his refusal of Zeigler’s alleged sexual advances meant that the bishop would listen to gossip about him rather than fairly investigate the accusations and unjustly kicked the priest out of his assignments. He claimed that the archbishop showed insufficient empathy to the priest and did not pay sufficient respect to his family after his father’s death. The priest’s letter speculated on whether this apparent inaction was due to an Ebola outbreak.

Both bishops ignored canon law, the priest charged.

The series on the Liberian bishops was produced by New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. It acknowledges funding from the Australian government agency Australian Aid, with the disclaimer that the funder had no say in the content.

The New Narratives project’s international partners are the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the U.K.-based charitable arm of the news network, and Chime for Change, founded by the Italian luxury fashion company Gucci in 2013. The Chime for Change campaign on its website describes as an effort “to convene, unite and strengthen the voices speaking out for gender equality.”

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/liberian-priests-wide-ranging-accusations-against-two-bishops-include-sexual-harassment-43668

Global heating to inflict more droughts on Africa as well as floods

droughtFlooding in the Tana river area of Kenya in 2018, when 60,000 people were forced to move home. Photograph: Andrew Kasuku/AFP

Global heating could bring many more bouts of severe drought as well as increased flooding to Africa than previously forecast, scientists have warned.

New research says the continent will experience many extreme outbreaks of intense rainfall over the next 80 years. These could trigger devastating floods, storms and disruption of farming. In addition, these events are likely to be interspersed with more crippling droughts during the growing season and these could also damage crop and food production.

“Essentially we have found that both ends of Africa’s weather extremes will get more severe,” said Elizabeth Kendon of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter. “The wet extreme will get worse, but also the appearance of dry spells during the growing season will also get more severe.”

This meteorological double whammy is blamed on the burning of fossil fuels, which is increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and causing it to heat up. Last month levels of carbon dioxide reached 415 parts per million, their highest level since Homo sapiens first appeared on Earth – and scientists warn that they are likely to continue on this upward curve for several decades. Global temperatures will be raised dangerously as a result.

The new meteorology study – carried out by scientists at the Met Office in collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University – reports on the likely impact on Africa of these temperature rises and indicates that western and central areas will suffer the worst impacts of weather disruptions. Many countries in these regions – including Niger, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are expected to experience substantial growth in population over that time and will be particularly vulnerable to severe floods.

At the other end of the precipitation spectrum, the study revealed there would be an increase in occasions when severe drought would occur for up to 10 days in the midst of the most critical part of a region’s growing season. The result could cause severe disruption to crop production.

“We have been able to model – in much finer detail than was previously possible – the manner in which rainfall patterns will change over Africa,” said Kendon. In the past it was thought intense rainfalls would occur in a region every 30 years. The new study, funded by UK foreign aid, indicates this is more likely to happen every three or four years.

An example of such flooding occurred two weeks ago when it was reported that eight people had died south of Kampala in Uganda after torrential rain hit the region. Similarly, at least 15 people were reported to have died during floods in Kenya last year. Thousands lost their homes.

“Our research suggests that extreme bouts of rainfall are likely to be seven or eight times more frequent than they are today,” said Kendon.

The new research, which is published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, is based on forecasts of rainfall in Africa that were achieved by analysing weather patterns in great detail.

“Africa is one of the parts of the planet that is going to be most vulnerable to climate change,” said Kendon. “Our study of rainfall patterns shows there are going to be some very severe problems to face food security and dealing with droughts.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jun/14/africa-global-heating-more-droughts-and-flooding-threat

Suspected New Zealand mosque gunman pleads not guilty

Christchurch killingsOfficials said Tarrant was fit to stand trial following an assessment of his mental state [File: Reuters]

Christchurch, New Zealand – The man accused of killing 51 people during a shooting spree in March at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has pleaded not guilty to all charges levelled against him.

A lawyer for Australian-born Brenton Tarrant, 28, said on Friday his client pleaded not guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 attempted murders and one charge of committing a terrorist act. This is the first time a terrorism charge has been brought in New Zealand.

Tarrant was not in court in person in Christchurch; instead he appeared via a video link from a maximum-security prison where he’s being held in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

Throughout the half-hour hearing on Friday, Tarrant – wearing a plain grey top – stood looking slightly up at a camera positioned above him.  He did not say a word during the hearing.  He nodded once to acknowledge he could hear the judge, and at times smirked.

When his lawyer entered the ‘not guilty’ pleas on his behalf, he grinned and – at one point – winked at the camera.

Fit for trial

Tarrant, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, is suspected of acting alone during the March 15 atrocity – New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass shooting.

He is accused of using modified semi-automatic weapons to massacre Muslims at Christchurch’s Al Noor and Linwood mosques during Friday prayers. The attack was live-streamed from a head-mounted camera.

New Zealand’s government tightened the country’s gun laws in the wake of the attack and has said it would review laws dealing with hate speech.

It has also supported international efforts to ensure that social media giants to do more to combat online “extremism”.

More than 100 family members of victims – and a few people who were shot but survived the attacks – were in court.  Most, throughout the hearing, looked intently at the screens showing Tarrant.

At the last hearing on April 5, the court had ordered Tarrant to undergo a mental assessment first to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.

The judge, Justice Cameron Mander, said the accused’s mental state had been assessed and he was fit to stand trial.

“The court endeavours to bring serious criminal cases to trial within a year of arrest. The scale and complexity of this case makes this challenging,” Mander said.

Because of the volume of evidence the prosecution and defence will have to consider, that trial will not take place until May 4.  It is expected to last at least six weeks and possibly as long as three months.

Tarrant has been remanded in custody until August 16 when a case review hearing is scheduled.

Mander barred news outlets from taking photographs or video of Tarrant’s appearance, although he said images from an earlier hearing in March could be used.

‘He will pay’

On the steps of the court after the hearing, people injured in the attacks, and relatives of those killed gave their reactions to what they’d seen and heard.

Temel Atacocugu was shot nine times and attended court on crutches.  On Friday he said: “He [Tarrant] is going to be the loser. We will win. He will pay for what he’s done.”

Janna Ezat whose 35-year-old son Hussein Al-Umari was killed in the attacks said she wanted to see the death penalty for Brenton Tarrant, if he is found guilty.

“This is the only way. In this specific case he has to be killed. [If] he killed [more than] fifty people. He has to be killed.”

New Zealand abolished the death penalty in 1989 and has not executed anyone since 1957. If found guilty, Tarrant faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The people killed in March’s attacks came from more than a dozen countries and their relatives speak a variety of different languages. The court had translators on hand for many and, both before and after the hearing, community representatives explained what would happen, and had happened in court. Even so, some were confused at why the trial won’t take place until next year.

“It was totally not explained,” said Didar Hossain “Why can’t the case be finalised within six months? That would be good for us.

Hossain described himself as heartbroken. “I lost my uncle” he said, “and all my friends”.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/suspected-zealand-mosque-shooter-pleads-guilty-190613233346021.html