Relieved victims react: 'We represent love, compassion - that is us'

4:54 pm on 27 August 2020

Warning - This story discusses details of the 15 March Christchurch mosque shootings.

Muslims realise no punishment given to the mosque terrorist can bring back their loved ones - but the sentence handed down in the High Court at Christchurch today has shown they can stand together successfully against terrorists, an imam says.

From top left: Gamal Fouda, Feroze Dita, Anjum Rahman  and Guled Mire

From top left: Gamal Fouda, Feroze Dita, Anjum Rahman and Guled Mire have all spoken about the impact of the sentence handed down to a mass killer. Photo: Supplied / Pool-Stuff / Loading Docs

Terrorist Brenton Tarrant, 29, will spend his life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

The Australian admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one charge of terrorism.

Justice Cameron Mander this afternoon imposed the sentence - the harshest available to the court.

It marks the first time in the country's history that a convicted person has ever been imprisoned with no possibility of parole.

Gamal Fouda - imam of Al Noor mosque, where 44 people were killed in the 15 March 2019 attacks - said victims have gained a great respect for the country's justice system after the four-day sentencing hearing.

He said no punishment would bring back any of the people they lost - but they have made a stand together against extremists.

"They [terrorists] represent hate but we are here today - we represent love, compassion, Muslim and non-Muslim; people of faith and non-faith. That is us - New Zealanders - and we are very proud we are Muslims in New Zealand."

Imam Gamal Fouda looks through a window at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2020.

Gamal Fouda, the imam of Al Noor mosque looks through one of its windows on the first anniversary of the terrorism attack. Photo: AFP

'The right call'

Muslim community advocate Guled Mire said the life sentence was a huge relief.

"There was always, I guess at the back of your mind, that there could have been a possibility that it may not have come down to this but it is absolutely the right call to have been made."

Survivor of the attacks Feroze Dita said the sentence would give victims closure and allow them to move on.

Dita, who is also the general secretary of the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said once the court hearing was adjourned, all those who had attended came outside feeling relieved.

They were greeted by dozens of supporters, many of whom had turned up in response to a request from the Student Volunteer Army, who urged people to come along and bring some aroha.

He told RNZ's Afternoons: "There's lots of hugs. There's a group singing a waiata outside. Just people feeling a sense of relief and it gives them some closure and an opportunity to move on with the next step of their lives."

Feroz Ditta - victim impact statement. 


Sentencing for Brenton Tarrant on 51 murder, 40 attempted murder and one terrorism charge.

Feroze Dita giving his victim impact statement earlier this week. Photo: Stuff / Pool

Anjum Rahman of the Islamic Women's Council said the sentence was the only realistic outcome.

"I feel a huge sense of relief for the victims - one that the whole process is over and secondly, that so many had asked for the sentence and they have got that so they don't have to deal with the emotions of getting a lesser sentence than this."

Hard questions and meaningful changes are being called for in the wake of the sentencing.

Tony Green, member of Muslim community

Tony Green Photo: RNZ/ Eden Fusitu’a

Tony Green, from Masjid An-Nur Mosque, said the community has had to be silent for nearly 18 months leading up to the sentencing.

He said now that's happened, this is the time to make meaningful changes.

"If we just go ahead with society and we do not look seriously and ask serious quesions about just how did this come to be we've got to look at these faultlines of hate and say how do we work for a better society so this kind of thing - I don't know about may never happen again - but we work against these kinds of faultlines."

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel praised the courage of the mosque attack victims who addressed the High Court this week.

She said the Muslim community had taught people much about peace, love, compassion and forgiveness since 15 March last year, and gave people another lesson in that this week as they came face-to-face with the terrorist.

She said people showed enormous courage and delivered their incredibly moving testimony with dignity and grace.

Dalziel said it was fitting that the man who perpetrated the worst crime in New Zealand's history should get the harshest sentence in New Zealand's history.

Police satisfied with sentence

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said police were very satisfied by the sentence handed down.

He commended the work done by the investigation team to enable the victims to tell their stories, and said work needed to continue to ensure all communities felt included in our society.

"We need to encourage tolerance, we need to make our communities a place where everyone can be safe and feel safe.

"Police will be a key part of that. We will continue to work with all communities to make sure they feel fully part of New Zealand."

Coster said the focus today should be on the victims and the courage and compassion they have shown.

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