NZ leader determined to limit spread of hate

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern with members of the Muslim community in the wake of the mass shooting that killed 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques on March 16. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern with members of the Muslim community in the wake of the mass shooting that killed 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques on March 16. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PM Ardern aims to stop mosque attacker from using trial to promote his views

WELLINGTON • New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she will do all she can to stop a man accused of killing 51 Muslim worshippers from spreading his message of hate at his trial.

In an interview with The Associated Press yesterday, she also said she hopes artificial intelligence (AI) will one day stop such attacks from being broadcast online.

Ms Ardern described how she made decisions after the March 15 attacks at two Christchurch mosques, including introducing sweeping gun reforms and starting a global discussion on keeping violent extremism from the Internet.

Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, 29, has been charged with 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism in the attacks and goes on trial next June.

Ms Ardern said she believed he would try to use the trial to promote his views. "It's clear that a part of this individual's motivation is creating a platform for himself. I think that's absolutely clear," she said. "And I think every opportunity we can to deprive the alleged terrorist of that should be utilised."

She said she was limited in what she could do, but was encouraged by the pledge of New Zealand's major media outlets to avoid promoting white supremacist ideology when covering the trial.

The gunman had livestreamed his attack on Facebook. Ms Ardern said she hoped AI could be used to stop such attacks from being broadcast, and that everybody had a responsibility to prevent such broadcasts from continuing to happen.

"Even Facebook has made moves around the way that it utilises livestreaming and who can access it," she noted.

Mr Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed in the attack on Al Noor mosque, said New Zealanders were initially confused about what to think. But a week later, at Muslim prayers in Christchurch, Ms Ardern gave a nationally televised speech that he said united people with three simple words: "We are one."

"It was so beautiful, in just one sentence," Mr Ahmed said.

Ms Ardern said she still had the piece of paper where she had hurriedly written her sentiments after the attack, words that would later resonate around the world.

"To me, it should have been the most unextraordinary thing to say. It was just my instinct around the way New Zealanders would be feeling," she said. "Yes, this was an attack, very explicitly on our Muslim community. But they were our Muslim community. I just felt that needed to be said straight away.

"I did the best I could at making sure that I didn't let anyone down. I needed to keep going and keep focused and keep working on behalf of those families," she added.

In a speech after the attacks, Mr Ahmed told a crowd of about 20,000 people in Christchurch that he forgave the man who had killed his wife. He said he did not want to have a heart burning with anger and hatred.

Ms Ardern said Mr Ahmed was an extraordinary man.

Asked if she could ever forgive the gunman, Ms Ardern turned the focus back on those who were at the mosques. "No one is more central to what happened on the 15th of March than those who were directly affected," she said. "So it's not for me to forgive."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2019, with the headline 'NZ leader determined to limit spread of hate'. Print Edition | Subscribe