Christchurch gunman’s sentencing hearing begins

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Members of the Muslim community arrive at Christchurch High Court to attend the case review hearing of Brenton Harrison Tarrant on February 24, 2020 in Christchurch, New ZealandImage copyright
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The hearing at Christchurch High Court is expected to last four days

The Australian white supremacist who killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand last year is facing survivors of his attack as a sentencing hearing gets under way.

Australian Brenton Tarrant is likely to be jailed for life for the rampage.

Tarrant pleaded guilty in March and was convicted of 51 murders, 40 attempted murders and one charge of terrorism.

Survivors and the family members of victims will speak at the four-day hearing.

The hearing will take place at the courthouse in Christchurch, the city where Tarrant carried out the attacks in March 2019.

The first session started on Monday morning,

Covid-19 restrictions mean the main court room is relatively empty.

An additional seven overflow courts within the law complex in Christchurch are being used for survivors and relatives of those killed to follow proceedings.

Tarrant, 29, from New South Wales, had previously denied the charges and was due to face trial in June, before reversing his plea. He now faces a minimum sentence of 17 years, but Justice Cameron Mander, the High Court judge presiding over the case, has the power to sentence him to a full life term with no parole – a sentence never before imposed in New Zealand.

More than 60 people will give in-person victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing. Some have travelled from overseas and undergone a two-week coronavirus quarantine in order to take part.

Dr Hamimah Tuyan, whose husband Zekeriya Tuyan died nearly seven weeks after being shot at the An-nur Masjid mosque, flew from Singapore in time to undergo quarantine for the hearing.

Dr Tuyan told the BBC she had wavered about whether to write an impact statement to be read in front of Tarrant, worried that it might “fan his narcissism”, but decided ultimately that she would.

“I haven’t really had time to think about how I feel about him or how I feel about seeing him in the flesh,” she said. “I hope I will be cool, calm and collected.”

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Media captionHamimah Tuyan lost her husband in the attacks

Hundreds of others will have to watch the proceedings on video feeds from other courtrooms in the city to allow for social distancing measures. The proceedings will not be shown live to the general public.

Justice Mander said in an order issued this month that the court would have the power to restrict the publication of victim statements if needed.

Tarrant’s attacks on the two mosques, parts of which he livestreamed online, sent shockwaves around the world and prompted New Zealand to make swift changes to its gun laws.

Less than a month after the shootings, the country’s parliament voted by 119 to 1 on reforms banning military-style semi-automatic weapons as well as parts that could be used to build prohibited firearms.

The government offered to compensate owners of newly-illegal weapons in a buy-back scheme.

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