Christchurch survivor tells remembrance service: ‘I choose peace’

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Farid Ahmed, one of the survivors, speaks during the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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Religious leaders take their seats ahead of the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks with relatives of victims of the mosque attacks at the national remembrance service at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
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People cry as they sing the national anthem during the national remembrance service for victims of the mosque attacks, at Hagley Park in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
Updated 29 March 2019
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Christchurch survivor tells remembrance service: ‘I choose peace’

  • Speakers honored the dead and those who survived the March 15 attacks,
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand: A Maori lament echoed across Christchurch Friday as a survivor of the New Zealand mosque attacks told a national remembrance service he had forgiven the gunman responsible for the racist massacre that shocked the world.
Thousands attended the service in the grieving southern city, standing silently with heads bowed while the names of 50 people killed by a self-avowed white supremacist gunman were read out.
Speakers honored the dead and those who survived the March 15 attacks, including 22 people who remain in hospital, among them a critically injured four-year-old girl.
Wearing a traditional Maori cloak, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was joined by representatives from nearly 60 nations, including her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.
Ardern, who has been widely hailed for her response to the tragedy and received a prolonged standing ovation when she took the stage, praised the way New Zealanders had embraced their devastated Muslim community since the attacks.
“Racism exists, but it is not welcome here,” she said.
“An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practice their faith or religion is not welcome here. Violence and extremism in all its forms is not welcome here.”
The hastily organized service was held amid tight security, with Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirming armed police from Australia were on site to assist their New Zealand counterparts.
The service heard a Muslim invocation, or du’a, and Cat Stevens — the British singer who shunned stardom in the 1970s and became a Muslim, taking the name Yusuf Islam — gave a powerful rendition of his hit song “Peace Train.”
But the most moving speech came from Farid Ahmed, whose wife Husna was killed as she rushed back into a mosque trying to rescue her disabled husband.
Sitting in his wheelchair before the assembled crowd, Ahmed said he forgave the accused gunman, Australian Brenton Tarrant.
“People ask me, ‘why do you forgive someone who has killed your beloved wife?’” he said.
“I can give so many answers... Allah says if we forgive one another he loves us.”
Echoing Ardern’s theme that extremism should not be allowed to breed extremism, Ahmed received a standing ovation when he said he chose peace over anger.
“I don’t want a heavy heart boiling like a volcano with anger, fury and rage — it burns itself and burns its surroundings,” he said.
“I want a heart full of love, care and mercy. This heart does not want any more lives to be lost, any other human to go through the pain I’ve gone through.
“That’s why I am choosing peace and I have forgiven.”
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said the atrocity was “an attack on us all.”
“Those actions were designed to divide us and tear us apart,” she said. “They have instead united us.”
Among the crowd, Azra Chida traveled from Auckland to attend the service, saying she lost two close friends in the attack.
“I have come to see their families and pay respect and visit the patients in the hospital,” she told AFP shortly before the ceremony began.
Local man Bobby Turner said: “I’m here for solidarity. To show that we care.
“It was just such a horrible thing to happen. These people were just going about their business. Prayer is supposed to be about love and peace.”


Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

Updated 6 min 23 sec ago
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Hong Kong protests signal alarm special freedoms fading

  • Activists are planning more protests, hoping to win attention and support
  • hundreds of thousands marched in a June 16 protest

HONG KONG: China promised that for 50 years after Britain gave up control of its last colony, this shimmering financial enclave would get to keep freedoms absent in the communist-ruled mainland. Twenty-two years on, those are rights many here believe Hong Kong cannot live without.
The hundreds of thousands who marched in a June 16 protest over a now-shelved extradition bill, and those still demonstrating, are signaling alarm that Hong Kong may become just another Chinese city as those protections unravel and Beijing’s influence expands in the territory.
Activists are planning more protests for Wednesday, hoping to win attention and support from world leaders gathering in Osaka, Japan, for the Group of 20 summit later this week.
“This is not about a power struggle,” said Bonnie Leung, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, one of a number of groups involved in organizing recent protests over the legislation. “This is about the values that make the world a better place.”
“The whole world, whoever has connections with Hong Kong, would be stakeholders,” she said.
All of those involved — the territory’s top official, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the police, lawmakers, the protesters and the rest of Hong Kong — are caught up in tensions stemming from the “one country, two systems” colonial legacy that bequeathed a Western-style civic society under a political system controlled by Beijing.
The protests erupted after Beijing-backed Lam tried to push through legislation that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to face trial in Communist Party-dominated courts in mainland China. Many in Hong Kong viewed the bill as another step toward curbing protections they expect from their legal system.
While they come from all walks of life, the protesters share a determination to preserve those freedoms, said Samson Yuen, a professor at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University.
“This protest has drawn everybody in town together,” he said. “They really value the freedom to speak up and protest.”
Jerome A. Cohen, a leading expert on Chinese law and government, said the extradition bill would have deprived local authorities of the right to prevent forcible transfers by China of suspects, including visitors, “for detention, trial and punishment that violate international standards of justice.”
The bill also would have enabled China to require Hong Kong authorities to freeze and confiscate assets of alleged suspects, Cohen wrote in a recent blog post. Efforts to limit the cases subject to extradition would not prevent suspects from being subject to China’s “incommunicado torture chambers, its denial of competent legal defenders and its unfair trials.”
Most Hong Kong residents belong to families that fled poverty and political upheavals in the communist mainland. British rule did not bequeath them democracy, but it laid the foundations for strong civic institutions, schools, health care — as well as a laissez faire trading regime dominated by business leaders deeply invested in keeping Hong Kong as it is.
Normally reluctant to wade into political matters or criticize Beijing, businesses also expressed concern over the extradition bill, with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce noting that the protests reflected “serious apprehensions.” The chamber welcomed the government’s decision to suspend the bill, as did its American and British counterparts.
It’s unclear if the turnout for another big protest planned for the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to Chinese control might match the earlier ones.
Lam’s push for the now stalled legislation, ill-timed around the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and the tear gas, steel batons and other aggressive tactics used by police, especially in June 12 protests that turned violent, helped draw people young and old into the streets.
Activists want an investigation into the complaints over police violence, along with Lam’s resignation and other demands. But the continued protests reflect a deeper sense of grievance and unease, especially among Hong Kong residents coming of age in an era of declining economic opportunity, said Ken Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings.
“Social mobility is more and more theoretical in Hong Kong, so young people continue to be very dissatisfied. There’s a broader concern about China in Hong Kong. The economy’s not growing like people thought it would grow,” Courtis said.
In many respects, Hong Kong faces the same sorts of challenges of other developed economies with aging populations and slowing growth.
The city of 7 million has an economy that is bigger than Vietnam’s and a per capita GDP of more than $46,000. But controls on land use favor property developers, and half the apartments available rent for $2,550 a month or more, while median monthly incomes are about $2,300.
In a city dominated by business leaders and other elites, the only leverage protesters can wield is “the power of numbers,” said Yuen, noting that surveys of those participating in protests in recent weeks generally identify with the city’s “grassroots or lower classes.”
“They see themselves as lower class because of crony capitalism in Hong Kong. It’s very hard for them to get a fine paying job and also to buy an apartment in Hong Kong,” he said.
Brian Chow, one of the protesters sitting in the sweltering heat on a recent day outside the city’s Legislative Council building, said he wasn’t the “type” to get involved in violence.
“I’ll just carry on sitting here, sing some Christian hymns, show our resistance, keep the government paralyzed until it responds to us,” he said.
After protesters blocked lines in the tax and immigration offices downtown on Monday, the government issued a statement appealing to them to “act peacefully and rationally when expressing their opinions and not to affect those in need of government services.”
In her apologies over the extradition bill fiasco, Lam appealed for “another chance” and said she would focus on improving the economy and resolving the housing crisis.
Chinese officials warned against “outside interference” but made a point of backing Lam’s decision to sideline the proposal. At a time of severe trade friction with the US, Beijing’s higher priority lies in preserving Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub and free port, Courtis said.
“People in Beijing are pragmatic. They see time in terms of many years,” he said. “Step sideways here, if that’s not enough then step backwards. Now you focus on making the economy work and keeping people happy.”