Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki says he is "surprised" after being charged by police for organising a mass anti-lockdown protest in Auckland - and he will defend the charges.
It a written statement this evening, the 63-year-old said he was today visited by two police officers informing him he would be charged with breaching the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 and Alert Level 3 Order.
Tamaki indicated he intends to defend the charges. He is set to appear at the Auckland District Court on October 12.
Police said earlier today a 63-year-old man had been summonsed to appear on charges relating to organising the rally that took place in Auckland Domain. The rally on Saturday saw as many as 2000 anti-lockdown protesters gather on the field and steps in front of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Police said the gathering was in breach of alert level 3 restrictions, and their investigation is ongoing.
Further charges or enforcement action against others involved in the event were being considered, police said.
"Police acknowledge that the taking place of this event was frustrating for our communities and we want to assure people that the police response on the day was planned and based on operational assessments as is usual for an event of that size," Superintendent Shanan Gray said.
"Police decision-making when it comes to these types of events will always be about community safety first and foremost."
Tonight, Tamaki said he was charged on the basis that he organised an outdoors gathering during level 3.
"Today, I had a visit from two officers from the New Zealand Police at my home informing
me that I was to be charged with two offences under the ever-changing laws passed by
the Government now known as the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level
Requirements) Order (No 12)," Tamaki said.
"I am prepared to stand up and be heard when I see injustice and suffering."
In the statement, he said he is "certainly not afraid to do so on any occasion, let alone at this vital time".
Tamaki says he stands behinds his actions and he will "defend" his involvement.
"My community, my people, are too important for me to ignore the pain being caused by the government's current policies," he said.
"The lockdowns and current levels are damaging our people, and it cannot continue. I cannot stand by quietly and let it happen."
Tamaki said it will be a "sad day" when "speaking up against what is wrong" is unlawful.
"Surely, we all agree with that, whether you agree with my views or the many thousands of ordinary New Zealanders who also agree with me on the important issues that I have spoken of."
Tamaki said he was surprised to be charged given he had worked alongside police before the event.
Tamaki said no issues or concerns were raised during Saturday's event.
He said he is "disappointed" with the action police have taken and believes it was done due to public pressure.
"That itself has been driven by the media who should themselves be holding the Government to account.
"Instead, as we can see, the media seek only to villainise the genuine efforts of others to raise and prevent the current suffering of our people."
The protest had earlier been condemned by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, who said he supported sanctions against the church leader.
Ardern had earlier said the protest was "a slap in the face" to Aucklanders who had been following the rules for weeks.
The Prime Minister confirmed the protest was illegal but would not say if there should have been arrests, saying it was an operational matter for the police.
Tamaki on social media hit back at Ardern's comments.
"If any true democracy-loving caring NZer ... value their Freedoms (sic) and the Freedoms of their children's children, you should never be angry at people who want to recover what's priceless and beyond value, and protect them," Tamaki said on Facebook.
"What price do you put on your personal Freedoms? Why would you hate us for that? As for the pathetic cry, you will cause a super-spread is unreasonable panic.
"You're vaccinated, not in the vicinity, and safe in your bubble, you then should be thanking us, who took the courageous risk, in the face of restrictions, to push back on oppressive laws from this Government."
As many as 2000 anti-lockdown protesters gathered, with the crowd including families with young babies on picnic chairs.