Christchurch Shooting Mosque attack sentencing hearing
Dr. Haezreena Abdul Hamid of the Institute of Criminology was appointed by the Ministry of Justice to act as a Malay consecutive interpreter and to also assist the victims of the massacre during the sentencing hearing at the High Court in Christchurch.
"Assalamualaikum wbt (may peace be upon you)
What can I say, the experience I had, witnessing, listening and trying to understand the victims pain and grief throughout the sentencing hearing of the Christchurch Mosque Attack gunman was by far the most difficult and challenging task I have experienced and encountered in my life. I came from a legal background in Malaysia where I was used to listening, examining, interviewing and liaising with victims of crimes and offenders in courts and prisons, but this is another level. These are victims of a mass killing, a massacre, a terrorist attack that took place in two mosques in Christchurch on 15 March 2019. These are victims who were murdered in a very cruel manner and cold-blooded fashion just because they profess the Islamic religion and/or because they were non-caucasian.
I am not going to discuss about the details of the events or provide graphic details of the horrific events. Neither am I going to provide too many detailed descriptions on what has happened to the victims and their families as I am required to keep all this information confidential. However, what I can write and share in this piece is my observation, experience, and feelings of the sentencing hearing. Suffice to say that the harm that has been inflicted on the victims and their families are still very much felt and ongoing. Many of them are still in pain and have bullets or shrapnel located in their body parts which interferes with their movement, breathing and daily activities. Many of them are still traumatized after the attack and require ongoing medical and psychological treatment. Many of them are still unable to work and are in need of spiritual and emotional healing.
Coming back to my role in the case, I was appointed by the Ministry of Justice of New Zealand to act as a Malay consecutive interpreter and to also assist the victims of the massacre during the sentencing hearing that was scheduled from the 24 to 27th of August, 2020. I was very much honoured and humbled when I was requested to provide assistance to the High Court and the victims. I knew it was going to be a very heavy task, but I accepted it because of my faith in Islam and also to stand in solidarity with the victims.
Most of the interpreters who were chosen had significant amount of work experience, humanitarian missions, academic background and ability to assist victims of crime. I was the only Malaysian appointed to this role and I was required to provide assistance to all the Malaysian and Singaporean victims, as well as any other victims who might require my presence or assistance. This would also mean that I am required to read out the victim impact statements in court or accompany the victims in the court room. I carried out the task that was entrusted upon me for four days and was together with the victims in the court room most of the time. I even extended my help to the Turkish victims and their family members (the fair amount of Turkish language I knew helped!).
Even though all of the Malay speaking victims could speak English, there were many legal jargons and technical terms used in this case which require a fair amount of legal knowledge. Furthermore, the victim impact statements were very emotional and just too hard to hear and bear for some. Therefore, it was my duty to interpret and narrate to them whatever transpired in court. This includes the offender’s demeanour, the victim impact statements that were read by the victims or their victim support workers, and the flow of the court processes. Given the technicality of this case, I also had to provide a brief law lecture to some of the interpreters and victims on the amicus curae’s legal submission (during the close of prosecution).
Although I might have had a significant amount of experience dealing with victims of crime, I couldn’t help but burst into tears when I saw the father of the three-year-old boy who had been killed in the attack. The father was a very soft-spoken man and told me that his son could recite the Al-Baqarah verse (a verse in the Quran) at the tender age of three. Despite all that has happened, his faith in humanity and the Islamic faith became stronger than ever. I was also particularly moved when I was talking to a mother of a 14-year-old boy who was killed in the attack. That was her youngest child and she described him as a very obedient son who loved to help his mother in any way he could. Despite the loss and the pain she is going through, she remained in good spirits and was very firm when she read out her victim impact statement in court. Many of the victims cried and some cried uncontrollably throughout the sentencing hearing but were able to put on a smile whenever they see me and approach me for a quick chat.
The atmosphere throughout the sentencing hearing was very sombre and I felt a heavy presence of energy each time I walked pass courtroom 12 - the main court room. It felt very heavy and particularly sad. I could not stand in that vicinity for too long and I would move away and go into one of the overflow court rooms. There were six other court rooms that was designated for the victims and one for the media and public.
White roses were given out to the victims in court on the last day of the sentencing hearing and I was given one too as appreciation for my assistance in the case. The last hour of the sentencing was particularly suspenseful and the crowd burst into joy with chants of takbir (which means “God is the greatest”) after the Judge delivered his sentence. There were many tears flowing, but it was tears of relief and joy this time round because justice has been served. The azan (call for prayer) could be heard along the corridor of the court followed by congregational prayer in the rest room.
I am very much humbled and honoured to be part of the sentencing hearing and to assist so many wonderful and strong individuals who have lost their loved ones and were attacked in the most heinous form but could pick up the courage to stand strong again and fight for justice.
Innalillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun (Verily we belong to Allah, and verily to Him do we return)
May Allah bless their souls"
Dr. Haezreena Abdul Hamid