The alleged gunman in the Christchurch mosque attacks that killed 51 people has been exchanging letters with white supremacists from his maximum security jail cell at Auckland’s Paremoremo prison, the New Zealand government has confirmed.
A letter from Brenton Tarrant was sent to a supporter in early July and experts say it can be read as a “call to arms” for white supremacists worldwide. The letter was posted to the anonymous message board 4chan, which has become notorious as a place for white supremacists to post their views.
It is legal for prisoners in New Zealand to send and receive mail, which may only be intercepted by authorities in limited circumstances, but ministers have said Tarrant’s letter should never have been allowed out.
“We have never had to manage a prisoner like this before – and I have asked questions around whether our laws are now fit for purpose and asked for advice on what changes we may now need to make,” said corrections minister, Kelvin Davis, in a statement.
“I do not believe that corrections should have allowed this letter to be sent and have sought assurances from them that there will be an enhanced process from now on.”
The opposition party’s corrections spokesperson, David Bennett, said the corrections minister owned the victims of the mosque shootings “an immediate apology”.
“The rights of the victims in this case and respect for them should be put above everything else. This man is accused of carrying out one of the most heinous crimes in New Zealand history. New Zealanders will be horrified that corrections allowed him to send a letter which includes a call to action and has subsequently been posted online.”
A spokesperson for the corrections department said it had subsequently changed its handling of Tarrant’s mail.
“On review, we acknowledge that this letter should have been withheld. We have made changes to the management of this prisoner’s mail to ensure that our robust processes are as effective as we need them to be,” the spokesperson said.
Self-declared white supremacist Tarrant is awaiting trial for 51 murders in two inner-city Christchurch mosques on 15 March. He has been charged with 51 counts of murder and also faces charges under New Zealand’s terrorism laws.
He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is scheduled for May next year.