The gunman behind New Zealand’s Christchurch mosque shootings sacked his lawyers on Monday and opted to represent himself, raising fears he would use a sentencing hearing next month to promote his white-supremacist views.
Australian national Brenton Tarrant will be sentenced on August 24 on 51 murder convictions, 40 of attempted murder and one of terrorism arising from last year’s massacre, the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s modern history.
He has pleaded guilty to the charges.
At a pre-sentencing hearing on Monday, High Court judge Cameron Mander allowed Tarrant’s lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, to withdraw from proceedings at the request of their client.
However, the judge ordered “standby counsel” to be available next month in case Tarrant – who appeared in the Christchurch court via video link from an Auckland prison – changes his mind.
New Zealand Muslim Association president Ikhlaq Kashkari questioned Tarrant’s motives, saying victims could be re-traumatised if the gunman were allowed to spout far-right rhetoric from the dock.
“My first concern when I read this was ‘Oh my God, what’s this guy up to, is he going to use this as a platform to promote his views and thoughts?’,” he told AFP.
“A lot of people are still going through trauma and this was seen as one of those events that would give them closure. I hope it’s not going to be something that will trigger more pain instead.”
In March 2019, Tarrant gunned down Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers at two Christchurch mosques, live-streaming the killings as he went.
His victims included children, women and the elderly.
The former gym instructor unexpectedly reversed his not-guilty plea in March this year, removing the need for a lengthy trial.
The terror and murder charges all carry life sentences, setting a minimum non-parole period of 17 years while also giving the judge power to imprison without the possibility of release. New Zealand does not have the death penalty.
Survivors and the families of victims will be present during the three-day sentencing hearing and Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand spokeswoman Anjum Rahman said many would not want to hear from Tarrant.
While she did not want to speculate on Tarrant’s motive for representing himself, she said: “He has shown in the past that he likes to get attention and he wants attention.
“I feel this is all part of that mindset.”