Singaporean who lost husband in NZ mosque attacks relieved at terrorist's life sentence

Singaporean who lost husband in NZ mosque attacks relieved at terrorist's life sentence

New Zealand Christchurch mosque attacks Hamimah Tuyan
Ms Hamimah Tuyan and her husband Zekeriya. (Photos: Hamimah Tuyan)

SINGAPORE: Ms Hamimah Tuyan remembers the first time she saw in the flesh the man who fatally shot her husband in the mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques in March last year.

White supremacist Brenton Tarrant, 29, killed 51 Muslim worshippers and injured dozens others after he went on the shooting rampage at the mosques in Christchurch during Friday prayers.

Ms Hamimah's husband, Mr Zekeriya Tuyan, was the 51st fatality. Mr Tuyan, a Turkish citizen and Singapore permanent resident, died 48 days after the attack and 18 surgeries in hospital.

Over three days in late August, Tarrant stood in a small Christchurch courtroom as more than 90 of those bereaved or wounded in the attacks read victim impact statements. 

Tarrant had earlier admitted to 51 charges of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act.

Christchurch mosque in New Zealand
A member of the Muslim community stands in front of the Al Noor mosque, two days ahead of the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque shootings on Mar 13, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Sanka Vidanagama) 

Ms Hamimah said she did not know when she would be called to read her statement until the second half of Aug 26, the third and final day. When her turn finally came, she recalled having an "out of body experience".

"As soon as I walked past the glass door (in the main courtroom), I felt like I wasn't me," she told CNA in a video call on Tuesday (Sep 8).

"Everything that I had planned to do – which was to not look at him, to just look at the judge, not to honour him with my eye contact, or whatever – all those plans just went away.

"As soon as I put the paper on the podium, I just found myself looking at him and I even actually smiled at him. I can't believe that, but it was more like a smile of, 'Oh, look what you have done to yourself'.

"After three days of watching the brothers and sisters read their impact statements before me, and how they bravely faced the terrorist, inspired me and gave me strength to also face the terrorist and speak directly to him."

READ: Singaporean woman's husband in intensive care after getting shot in Christchurch mosque attacks

Ms Hamimah, who is in her 40s, said in her statement that it would be a "grave injustice" if the terrorist was given a second chance to walk free.

"I see the longing in my sons’ eyes as they watch other boys holding hands, tumbling on the grass, reading books, building Legos with their fathers," Ms Hamimah, who has two sons, said then.

"How do I, their mum, console their aching hearts?"

DRAWING STRENGTH FROM HER HUSBAND

Ms Hamimah said on Tuesday that she found strength from her husband as she read her statement, stating that "he would have done the same for me if the situation was reversed".

When the attacks occurred, Ms Hamimah and her children were based in Singapore, while her husband was working in New Zealand.

"Him being the brave guy that he was, he would have wanted me to do this. And this is my way of honouring him, of being his voice. Because, as I mentioned (in my speech), he's not here to speak for himself," she added.

"But also the voice for my two boys, they are too young to speak for themselves."

Ms Hamimah finished her statement without needing reading glasses as she usually does, something that still surprises her now. She also described feeling a mixture of emotions for Tarrant.

READ: 'Your hatred is unnecessary': Defiant New Zealand mosque shooting survivors face gunman

"My focus was just different, I didn't want to think too much about that guy," she said.

"I have been protected for so long, I haven't had the need to think about him too much because I was just busy with the kids, and you know, coming back to Singapore and getting on with life and work – autopilot basically.

READ: Daughter of New Zealand mosque victim tells gunman: Consider 'beauty of diversity' while in prison

"But right towards the end of isolation (in New Zealand before going to court), I actually said that I pitied him. In fact, I pity his mother because I'm a mother. I wouldn't be proud of having a son in this kind of situation.

"But throughout that sentencing week, I think it was just apathy. I think it was more like, 'Okay, it is what it is. Let's just go through this'."

LIFE IMPRISONMENT WITHOUT PAROLE

The next day, Tarrant was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, the first time such a sentence was handed down in New Zealand.

Ms Hamimah said she admired how the judge, Cameron Mander, was "so thoughtful and kind and gracious to mention every one of the deceased" in two hours of remarks.

"When he finally pronounced the sentence on the terrorist, we were all actually just quiet. I think we were just so relieved and grateful that our prayers were answered through the sentencing," she said.

There were some concerns that Tarrant could be given a more lenient sentence as he made a guilty plea after initially claiming trial, she added.

READ: New Zealand judge sentences mosque shooter to life in prison, without parole, for 'wicked crimes'

Ms Hamimah left the courtroom and gathered with the other survivors as one of them recited the Muslim prayer call, which she said helped calm them.

"And then as soon as we got out of the courthouse, everything just broke loose. Everyone was celebrating," she added.

"We had a whole crowd waiting to greet us and celebrate with us, so that was really sweet. That's New Zealand for you."

Survivors and family of Christchurch shooting victims Aug 27, 2020
Survivors and family members of the 2019 twin mosque shootings greet each other outside the High Court building on the last day of the sentencing hearing on Aug 27, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Sanka Vidanagama) 

Ms Hamimah hesitated to say the sentencing has brought closure, pointing out that in "something as impactful as this, I'm not sure you could ever have closure".

"I’ve always used the analogy of a long-distance hurdle race. So it’s just another hurdle that you jump over and you reach closer and closer to the finishing line," she said.

READ: 'It was not my time yet': Malaysian survivor recounts horrific Christchurch mosque shooting

"But after this we still have the royal commission (investigating the incident), the government’s response to the royal commission, and then I’m not sure if there is going to be another remembrance for the second year anniversary.

"But if you ask me personally, I really do not want people to forget this. So, I don't really hope for closure in that sense, because I really want people to keep remembering this incident and all the good and the bad that has come out of it. The lessons that we should learn from it."

Christchurch shooting Botanic Gardens 1
Mourners left flowers at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch in the days following the attacks. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

Ms Hamimah said Singapore can learn from the attacks by asking some "hard questions" and addressing any hatred, bigotry or racism in its society.

"Nobody expected the attack to happen in Christchurch. And therefore, we cannot be complacent and think that it cannot happen in our country too," she said.

"When people have stereotypes, and they feed on it, and then they spread it. It can be an influencer ... all that's required is one loon."

A GOOD ENDING

Ms Hamimah is now back in Singapore, keeping busy in her job as a speech and language therapist at a public hospital and caring for her two children. 

In her impact statement, written some time before the sentencing, Ms Hamimah said her children asked questions like why the man killed their father, and whether the man was from ISIS.

But the nature of their queries has now changed, she said.

Canterbury University Christchurch shootings memorial
A student leaving a tribute at the memorial wall in Canterbury University. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

"COVID-19 is a blessing in disguise, in a way. It helps my children not ask for us to go back to Christchurch as often as pre-COVID. It distracted them quite a bit and helped them to adjust," she said.

"I think how I have addressed their baba's death seems to be working so far, like helping them to understand that death is a transition, that we will meet him again in the afterlife. 

"And so they haven't asked me questions related to the attack anymore. In fact, when their baba is being mentioned now, it is more of as a matter of fact, like, 'Oh yeah, baba used to like this'. Not anymore with a longing tone."

Christchurch shooting Botanic Gardens 4
People writing notes for those affected by the attacks. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

As for dealing with her own loss, Ms Hamimah said she has done a lot of therapeutic writing, and used the two weeks of isolation in New Zealand to reflect on what she has been through the past year, without the distraction of work and everyday chores.

"The circumstances where my husband's life was taken, it is for Muslims a good ending," she said. 

"So that settles a big part of my healing because what have I got to complain about? I have to actually worry about my ending. My husband’s ending, we know from religion, they will be rewarded with martyrdom and get their place in paradise.

READ: 'One of the safest countries': Some fear and trauma, but Malaysians in Christchurch aren't going anywhere

"If I believe in that, then I should be more focused on how do I move forward with my children bravely, strongly and continue the legacy of my husband.

"And not let whatever happened to him or our community happen to other communities. Literally, what can I do to make sure that I make use of this experience to benefit the society or benefit others."

FORGIVENESS WAS NEVER A QUESTION

With that, Ms Hamimah was asked if she forgives the terrorist for what he had done to her husband.

"To me, that has never been a question, whether to forgive him or not," she replied.

"Because I don't feel for myself that I have a lot of anger in me that I need to forgive him. Or that I don't forgive him, then I'm holding on to anger and all those other psychological stuff. I don't."

Christchurch shooting Botanic Gardens 2
The flowers outside the Botanic Gardens. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

Since Ms Hamimah found herself feeling some pity for him at one point, she said: "If pitying is part of forgiving, then yes, I'm getting close to it, but I didn't really need to forgive him at all."

But Ms Hamimah said there might be some who misunderstand forgiveness as foregoing punishment.

"People need to understand forgiving does not mean that we agree to just look over punishment or the administration of justice," she added.

Source: CNA/hz

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