NZ leader vows to 'absolutely deny' mosque gunman a platform

Attacker Tarrant's desire for infamy made clear by his 74-page manifesto and move to live stream Friday's attack.

    Ardern met with members of the Muslim community in the wake of the mass shootings in Christchurch [EPA]
    Ardern met with members of the Muslim community in the wake of the mass shootings in Christchurch [EPA]

    The "white supremacist" accused of killing 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand dismissed his lawyer and opted to represent himself at trial, prompting the prime minister to declare on Tuesday she would do everything in her power to deny him a platform for his racist views.

    "I agree that it is absolutely something that we need to acknowledge and do what we can to prevent the notoriety that this individual seeks," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters.

    "He obviously had a range of reasons for committing this atrocious terrorist attack. Lifting his profile was one of them. And that's something that we can absolutely deny him."

    Asked if she would like the trial to occur behind closed doors, Ardern demurred, saying that was not her decision to make.

    "One thing I can assure you - you won't hear me speak his name," she said.

    "He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand," Ardern later told a special session of parliament, which she opened by saying, "peace be upon you" in Arabic.

    'Horrendous' video

    The gunman's desire for infamy was made clear by the fact that he emailed a convoluted 74-page "manifesto" before Friday's massacre and live streamed footage of his attack on the Al Noor mosque.

    The video prompted widespread revulsion and condemnation by legislators and members of the public. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million videos of the shootings during the first 24 hours after the massacre. But on Tuesday, Ardern expressed frustration as the video remained available online, four days after the attack.

    "We have been in contact with Facebook; they have given us updates on their efforts to have it removed, but as I say, it's our view that it cannot - should not - be distributed, available, able to be viewed," she said. "It is horrendous and while they've given us those assurances, ultimately the responsibility does sit with them."

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    Ardern said she had received "some communication" from Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on the issue. The prime minister has also spoken with British Prime Minister Theresa May about the importance of a global effort to clamp down on the distribution of such material.

    Australia's prime minister urged world leaders to crack down on social media companies that broadcast attacks.

    Prime Minister Scott Morrison has written to G20 Chairman and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling for agreement on "clear consequences" for companies whose platforms are used to facilitate and normalise horrific acts.

    "Social media companies are international businesses and it's up to the international community to force them to act," Morrison said.

    Facebook, the world's largest social media network with about 2.3 billion monthly users around the world, said the original video on its service was seen fewer than 200 times. An archived copy drew about 3,800 additional views on Facebook before the company removed it.

    "This incident highlights the importance of industry cooperation regarding the range of terrorists and violent extremists operating online," a grouping of tech firms, which includes Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc's Google and Twitter Inc, said of the attack.

    'Clear and lucid'

    Lawyer Richard Peters, who was assigned to represent Tarrant at his initial court appearance on Saturday, told the New Zealand Herald that Tarrant dismissed him that day.

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    A judge ordered Tarrant to return to New Zealand's High Court on April 5 for his next hearing on one count of murder, though he is expected to face additional charges. He is being held in isolation in a Christchurch jail.

    "He seemed quite clear and lucid, whereas this may seem like very irrational behaviour," Peters told the newspaper. "He didn't appear to me to be facing any challenges or mental impairment, other than holding fairly extreme views."

    He said a judge could order a lawyer to assist Tarrant at a trial, but the suspect would likely be unsuccessful in trying to use it as a platform to put forward any extreme views.

    Under New Zealand law, a trial is "to determine innocence or guilt", Peters said. "The court is not going to be very sympathetic to him if he wants to use the trial to express his own views."

    Peters said Tarrant didn't tell him why he wanted to represent himself.

    Ardern has said gun law reforms would be announced within 10 days of the attack and an inquiry conducted into intelligence and security services that failed to detect the risk from the attacker or his plans. There have been concerns intelligence agencies were overly focused on the Muslim community in detecting and preventing security risks.

    New Zealand's international spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau, confirmed in a statement it had not received any relevant information or intelligence leading up to the shootings.

    SOURCE: News agencies