The man behind the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand's history has appealed his convictions and life without parole prison sentence, following claims by his lawyer that he received “inhumane and degrading” treatment while in custody.
The Australian white supremacist murdered 51 people and injured 40 when he opened fire on two mosques in the New Zealand city of Chistchurch on March 15, 2019, in a livestreamed mass killing event that led to major gun reform in the country. Police arrested him on his way to a third mosque.
In 2020 he pleaded guilty to 51 murder charges, 40 charges of attempted murder, and a terrorism charge, and was subsequently sentenced to life without parole—a sentence that had never been imposed in New Zealand before.
Judge Cameron Mander declared at the time that he was passing down the harshest possible term for the shooter’s “inhuman” actions, telling him: “Your crimes are so wicked, that even if you are detained until you die it will not exhaust the requirements of punishment and denunciation.”
On Tuesday, the New Zealand Court of Appeal confirmed to the New Zealand Herald that the attacker had filed an appeal against his conviction and sentence. The appeal appears to have been made following advice from the gunman’s lawyer, Tony Ellis, who last year argued that his client pleaded guilty because of “inhumane and degrading treatment” he received while awaiting trial, and that his sentence and conviction may have breached the Bill of Rights, according to Radio New Zealand.
“He said because of how he was treated while he was awaiting trial and afterwards, [that affected] his will to carry on and he decided that the simplest way out was to plead guilty,” Ellis said of his client, in a memo sent to a New Zealand coroner ahead of a coronial inquiry into the massacre.
“By this, he means he was subject to inhuman or degrading treatment whilst on remand, which prevented a fair trial.”
Massacre survivors have expressed shock at the appeal, which they say has the potential to re-traumatise those impacted.
“I believe this will cause significant trauma in our community and that the terrorist will gain nothing from it,” Imam Gamal Fouda, who survived the terror attack, told the New Zealand Herald.
“I am struggling to understand why he is doing this when he himself pleaded guilty,” Fouda added. “I cannot help but think that this is another action from this terrorist to harm his victims again by keeping alive the memory of him and his terrorist actions.”
Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times during the attack, similarly told the Herald: “He’s doing these things to keep reminding the public that ‘I’m still here’. He’s trying to not be forgotten.”
“It’s not going to work and he will remain in there forever.”
When asked about the appeal, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern refused to comment on what she described as the gunman’s “attempts to re-victimize people.”
“I made a pledge a long time ago I wouldn’t publicly-name the terrorist from March 15 and that’s because his is a story that should not be told,” Ardern said. “His is a name that shouldn’t be repeated and I’m going to apply that same rule in commenting on his attempts to re-victimize people.”
“We should give him nothing.”
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