The survivors of the Christchurch mosque attacks are preparing to revisit their trauma this week

Bereaved families and survivors of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings will deliver victim impact statements during the sentencing of the gunman from Monday. Here, two of them tell SBS News how they have been coping.

Rahimi Ahmad and his family

Rahimi Ahmad and his son (not identified) survived one of the mosque shootings. Source: Supplied/Rahimi Ahmad

For Rahimi Ahmad, the past 17 months have been defined by a punishing schedule of surgery and rehabilitation sessions.

The father-of-two was among dozens shot when a gunman stormed the Al Noor mosque, and later the Linwood Islamic Centre, on 15 March 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The bullet hit him in the back and he has barely been able to walk since.

Three months ago, he took his first steps with the assistance of crutches. Most of the time, he uses a wheelchair. 

Rahimi Ahmad has been relearning to walk since the attack.
Source: Supplied

“The injury has stayed with me,” he tells SBS News.  

His scars are both physical and mental; the searing memories of that day can strike at any time.  

“It affects me, but I still have to be strong, I have two kids to raise,” he said. 

One of his children - who he does not wish to be identified - is also wrestling with his own trauma.

Rahimi's 12-year-old son was in the Al Noor mosque when it came under siege. Though he emerged physically unscathed, he faces an ongoing mental health battle.  

“The thing is still in his head. You cannot erase like we erase the data in a computer,” Rahimi said.  

The boy has been seeing a counsellor every week since the attacks.  

Christchurch mosque attack survivors share their stories

This week the family, who moved to New Zealand from Malaysia in 2014, are bracing for another emotional chapter.

The sentencing for Brenton Tarrant, the Australian gunman who shot dead 51 people at two mosques, begins on Monday, thrusting the city's tight-knit Islamic community back into the global spotlight. 

More than 60 bereaved families and survivors will front Christchurch High Court and deliver victim impact statements. 

Rahimi Ahmad recovering in hospital with his wife, Nor Azila Abd Wahid, by his side.
Source: Supplied

Christchurch acting mayor Andrew Turner says for many it will mean revisiting the horror of the day in sharp detail. 

"For some, it will represent closure. For some, it will reopen some of the thoughts and concerns people had at the time of the shooting, it will reopen it for them again," he said. 

"This is going to be big for the city for a number of reasons."'

On Friday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the immense anguish the sentencing will bring to the deeply wounded community. 

"I don't think there is much that I can say is going to ease just how traumatic that period is going to be, but we are doing everything we can to make sure that those families and victims have all the support that they need."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with members of the Muslim community after the shootings.
Source: AAP

Rahimi worries it could trigger a setback in his son’s recovery. 

“For my son, it will come back as prime[time] news,” he said.   

He fears too for his own mental health. 

“It's quite difficult for me to bring back all these things and have to go to court,” he said.   

The gunman is expected to receive life imprisonment after pleading guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism.

"It's going to be quite an extraordinary hearing that's envisaged to take several days," Len Andersen the president of New Zealand’s Criminal Bar Association said. 

“The charges that he has pleaded guilty to have a mandatory life imprisonment. So essentially, it is prison for life."

Mr Andersen also expects the prosecutors will request an order of no parole. 

"In other words, he must serve the whole of the life sentence in prison." 

Around 50 survivors and family members from countries including Australia, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Jordan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Fiji, Egypt and Singapore have travelled to Christchurch to support those impacted. Many had immigrated to New Zealand. 

Those who can't make it to court will be able to access the hearing, which is expected to run for four days, online. It will be broadcast in eight languages for survivors, their families and the media only.

Victim impact statements will either be read out by the individual or, in cases such as Rahimi's, by a support worker.

"Some of the victims may have said they want to turn up and give their victim impact statements and explain to him just the horror that he has caused," said Auckland University of Technology law professor Kris Gledhill said.

That's the case for Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed who was praying at the Linwood mosque that day. The father-of-two watched seven people die, including a close friend.

Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed speaks with Imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah at the Linwood Islamic Centre.
Source: Getty Images

"It is my utmost responsibility to speak on behalf of the people who lost their lives," he said. 

"I have friends who have severe bullet injuries. One of my friends has completely lost his hand, the other, his right leg is completely impaired.

"[I want to] let the whole world know, remind very strongly, how this act of hate is exponentially catastrophic, like a chain reaction which never ends." 

SBS Arabic24: Muslim community still healing, says former Imam of Christchurch mosque  

But Mazharuddin, who was born in India, says his most important message to the gunman is that his actions have united a community and a country. 

"So many good things have happened since this so it is better to focus on that," he said.

"I want to highlight that the people of New Zealand and the world have supported our community. This is how humanity should come together."

"We are all one. We are one nation, one people, and one humanity." 

For people in Australia, mental health support is available at Beyond Blue.org.auEmbrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.


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Published 24 August 2020 at 5:42am, updated 24 August 2020 at 11:56am
By Abbie O'Brien