WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A New Zealand man was sentenced to nearly two years in prison on Tuesday for sharing a video of the terrorist attack in March that left 51 people dead at two mosques in Christchurch.
The man, Philip Arps, had pleaded guilty in April to charges of distributing objectionable content. In addition to sharing the gunman’s video online, Arps sent a copy of it to be doctored to look like a first-person-shooter video game, featuring crosshairs and a body count.
Immediately after the sentencing hearing in a Christchurch courtroom on Tuesday, a lawyer for Arps said his client would appeal the sentence. The lawyer, Anselm Williams, asserted that Arps had received a sentence of prison, rather than home detention, because of his white supremacist beliefs, not his actions.
In the week following the March attacks, Arps was in the news after members of the public complained to the police that vans belonging to the insulation company he owns were decorated with a Nazi symbol. Employees at the company wore camouflage uniforms, and its promotional materials featured other white supremacist symbols and references.
Arps, 44, was convicted in 2016 on a charge of offensive behavior and received a fine of $519 for leaving a box of pigs’ heads outside Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, The New Zealand Herald reported. Arps filmed the episode and later posted it online.
Al Noor was one of the mosques where worshippers were slaughtered on March 15.
Three days after the attacks, New Zealand’s chief censor ruled that possessing or sharing footage of the massacre, which the gunman appeared to have broadcast on Facebook, was against the law.
The censor, David Shanks, a government official who has the authority to determine what material is forbidden in New Zealand, also banned a rambling manifesto in which the man accused of carrying out the killings outlined his white supremacist views.
New Zealand has laws against holding or distributing material deemed objectionable by the censor. Those who share forbidden content can face up to 14 years in jail.
In court on Tuesday, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Arps to prison, rather than home detention, because there was “no prospect” that he could be rehabilitated, given his “extreme ideological outlook,” the website Christchurch Court News reported. The judge, Stephen O’Driscoll, agreed, sentencing Arps to 21 months in prison.
Williams, Arps’s lawyer, said in an interview that his client would fight at a hearing in a month or two for a noncustodial sentence, arguing that the prison term was excessive.
His client, Williams said, believes that “the level of sentence has been impacted significantly by the views that he holds and expresses. These are not the subject of any crime and not something anyone can be imprisoned for.”
Williams told the court his client had distributed the video to about 30 people.
Arps had told police that he thought the Christchurch massacre was “awesome,” and he had likened himself to Rudolf Hess, the Nazi deputy to Hitler who tried to negotiate peace, reported Christchurch Court News.
The judge responded that there was “no comparison” between Arps and Hess. He said that Arps had been cruel and callous in sharing the video as the victims’ families waited to hear if their relatives were alive, and that Arps’s actions amounted to a hate crime.
Arps is one of 13 people whom the police in New Zealand have warned or charged for distributing objectionable content in relation to the shootings.
The youngest was a 16-year-old high school student, who was initially denied bail when he appeared in Christchurch District Court in April on a charge of making copies of the attack video, which he has denied.
He was held in custody for two months before being granted bail and returning to his parents’ home, where he is not allowed to use electronic communications technology, according to Christchurch Court News.
A 17-year-old in Hamilton and an 18-year-old university student in Christchurch are also among those who have appeared in court over the video.