While awaiting trial for the murder of 51 Muslims in Christchurch, the man responsible for the March 15 terror attack has been permitted to send a hate-filled letter to far-right sympathisers. Does Corrections really not understand the potential for serious harm, internationally, if they fail to do their job to highest standards, asks Anjum Rahman.
The first I heard about a letter that the man who has been charged with the murderer of 51 Muslims in Christchurch sent to someone in Russia was a phone call from Radio New Zealand. I literally had three minutes to compose myself before I gave this interview.
After that the shock set in, the shaking began and later the tears. This is beyond a re-living of the trauma of March 15. It is once again a realisation of the harm this man is doing and can continue to do while in custody. It is the knowledge that lives are at risk right now, in any number of countries around the world, because of the bullets that were fired five months ago, because of the manifesto that was posted online, because of the live-streamed video that even now has not been entirely erased from the internet.
Surely Corrections officials are aware of the risk? Surely they understand the potential for serious harm, internationally, that can be done if they fail to do their job to highest standards?
It’s not like we aren’t seeing it happening in real time. Just 10 days a mass murderer in El Paso allegedly referenced the Christchurch attacks as inspiration. Three days ago we heard that the Norwegian killer was similarly “inspired”, as was the Poway synagogue murderer in April.
All of this was without further statements or writing from the man awaiting trial for the Christchurch mass murder. Imagine the impact if he is able to get more messages out to those who are sympathetic to his views and actions.
I’m sure the Muslim community and other New Zealanders would want to know: what planning went into the holding of this person in long-term custody? What expertise is there in Corrections to hold an alleged mass murderer? And if they knew they didn’t have sufficient expertise, what did they do about acquiring it from overseas?
Further to this, we need to know what vetting has been done of Corrections staff and managers, including senior management to the highest levels, to ensure there is no-one within that department who might be even the slightest bit sympathetic to the ideology of the Christchurch killer. We would hope there has been vetting of this kind over many, many years – it would be nice to see evidence of it.
The level of sophistication of this alleged murderer is beyond anything we have seen in this country. The planning that went into the attacks, the ability to get maximum impact in the shortest amount of time, indicated that a much higher level of care needed to be taken with holding him in custody.
This incident with the letter indicates that both planning and expertise are lacking in Corrections. It indicates a lack of understanding of the level of threat he poses. I do understand that he has human rights as the accused and as a prisoner of the state.
In terms of human rights, I have long been an advocate of prisoners having the right to vote, and yes, I would even support this prisoner’s right to vote. But when it comes to his ability to reach the outside world, the public has the right to safety, they have the right to not be killed in their places of worship, nor when shopping at a garlic festival or in a mall, or walking along the street and going about their business.
I will say again what I said to government officials more than two years ago: we expect that you will be as vigilant in investigating and monitoring the alt-right and neo-Nazis as you are with Islamic extremists. I’m asking the government again today: please, please be vigilant. Please make sure you have the best expertise at hand. Please don’t let hate spread any further.
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