New Zealand bans Christchurch attack suspect's manifesto

People at the gates of the Al Noor mosque after it was reopened in Christchurch, on March 23, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

CHRISTCHURCH (NYTIMES) - Hoping to limit the spread of hateful ideas attributed to the suspect accused of the Christchurch killings, New Zealand classified his manifesto as "objectionable" on Saturday (March 23), making it a crime to possess or distribute it anywhere in the country.

"People who have downloaded this document, or printed it, should destroy any copies," said Mr David Shanks, chief censor in New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs.

"There is an important distinction to be made between 'hate speech', which may be rejected by many right-thinking people but which is legal to express, and this type of publication, which is deliberately constructed to inspire further murder and terrorism," Mr Shanks said. "It crosses the line."

The ruling is part of a wider strategy by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to undermine the attempts by the suspect, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, to gain global notoriety.

She has pledged never to utter his name publicly, and to press platforms like Facebook to deny access worldwide to the manifesto, which was published just before the slaughter of 50 people in two mosques, as well as the video the gunman apparently livestreamed of part of the attacks.

Prosecutors have also gone after people who shared that video.

As of Thursday (March 21), at least two people had been charged with sharing the video via social media, under a law that forbids dissemination or possession of material depicting extreme violence and terrorism.

Others could face related charges in connection with publicising the terrorist attack, under a human rights law that forbids incitement of racial disharmony.

These cases are possible because while freedom of expression is a legal right in New Zealand, the parameters are more restrictive than the First Amendment guarantees in the United States. And Mr Shanks, the country's chief official in charge of determining what is protected speech and what is not, made clear that the gunman's white nationalist diatribe was off-limits.

"It promotes, encourages and justifies acts of murder and terrorist violence against identified groups of people," Mr Shanks said. "It identifies specific places for potential attack in New Zealand, and refers to the means by which other types of attack may be carried out. It contains justifications for acts of tremendous cruelty, such as the deliberate killing of children."

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