Inside the courthouse, they held cuddly toys and each other, they fixed their gaze on the alleged gunman, and they gasped when he entered not guilty pleas through his lawyer.

Outside the courthouse, survivors and family members of 51 killed as a result of the March 15 attacks at two Christchurch mosques talked about how important, but also how hard, it was to be at the High Court at Christchurch.

The grieving survivors were there yesterday as Brenton Tarrant appeared on 51 murder charges, 40 attempted murder charges and a charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

The 28-year-old Australian national's latest court appearance also came as new emails released to the Herald under the Official Information Act revealed frenzied communications between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's office and Facebook bosses after the massacre.


The correspondence showed high-level fears about material Facebook was set to release in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, which police said was critical to their unprecedented criminal investigation.

In a statement, Ardern said Facebook kept in regular contact with her office in the days following the attack, including a phone call between herself and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg.

The accused gunman has been almost completely out of public sight since the attacks, after which he was whisked to Auckland's Paremoremo Prison.

Abdul Aziz, right, is confronted by a man who played Nazi music outside the High Court in Christchurch today. Photo / Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images
Abdul Aziz, right, is confronted by a man who played Nazi music outside the High Court in Christchurch today. Photo / Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images

His appearance, via video link, filled the High Court with survivors and relatives of the dead — reserved seating for 80 in the public gallery was supplemented by two overflow rooms with a video link.

The accused gunman, in a grey sweatshirt and straining to hear, constantly looked around, but would himself not have been able to see the public gallery.

He gave a slight smile when his not guilty pleas were made.

Many were visibly upset during the man's short court appearance, although they waited until they were outside the courtroom to express their outrage.

But there was also a strong desire to see the accused in court.


Abdul Aziz, widely hailed as a hero for confronting the alleged gunman with an eftpos machine and chasing him away from Linwood Islamic Centre, said being in court was "very hard".

But he'd be back — for the next hearing, an August 16 case review, and every hearing between then and the trial, which will begin May 4 next year.

"We are getting there slowly. But it will take time. Days like today bring it all back."

In an unpleasant scene outside court, Aziz was met by a man allegedly playing Nazi music and making racist remarks.

Rodrick Wayne Woods was arrested and charged with behaving in an offensive manner.

Judge Tom Gilbert later bailed him to June 28 to enter a plea, and gave the 33-year-old a serve when he questioned how he could abide a bail condition to stay away from the mosques when he normally biked past one.

"You go the long way", Judge Gilbert replied.

Linwood Mosque imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah was at the High Court today for the appearance of the man accused of killing 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in March. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Linwood Mosque imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah was at the High Court today for the appearance of the man accused of killing 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in March. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Linwood Mosque Imam Alabi Lateef Zirullah said he was in court yesterday to see the man accused of killing seven of his congregation.

The experience left him "feeling nothing".

His community was still emotional, hurting and raw.

"No one is in a good situation, nobody feels good. It has not got any easier."

Yesterday's hearing, which again attracted a large domestic and international media presence, also addressed two mental health assessors' reports.

Both found the defendant was fit to plead, instruct counsel and stand trial, Justice Cameron Mander said.

The Crown believed the trial could last around six weeks, but defence counsel Shane Tait believed it could take up to three months.

Meanwhile, the planned release of information by Facebook, which sparked high-level Government concern, detailed parts of the social media giant's response after the massacre was live-streamed on Facebook, according to emails released under the OIA.

The information that caused so much concern was redacted, but an email from Ardern's chief press secretary Andrew Campbell to a Facebook official showed the Prime Minister's office was worried about it being made public.

Campbell said he wanted to run the information past police before it was released.

"I can see this post causing significant concerns and contains information relevant to the police investigation," Campbell said in a March 18 email.

The post was a timeline of what Facebook knew when and what it did in response, particularly around the video, according to Facebook director of policy in Australia and New Zealand Mia Garlick.

Three bullet points were redacted, but a fourth said at 2.31pm on March 15, law enforcement contacted Facebook. Nine minutes later, the video was taken down. The first 111 call about the attacks occurred at 1.41pm.

In a later email, Campbell said: "It was the initial times that alarmed me."

Campbell told the Herald to the best of his knowledge the information in question had never been publicly released.

The OIA showed that after Campbell asked Garlick to hold off releasing the information, another email said Campbell had made a "really useful intervention" and "police are very grateful". The sender's name was redacted.

It also said Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Chambers phoned Garlick to say some information shouldn't be publicly released as it was critical to the investigation.

The emails about the redacted timeline are among a wide array of communication between Government officials and Facebook in the days after the attacks.

The first email came at 2.39pm — eight minutes after Facebook was contacted by law enforcement.

Garlick emailed Campbell and Ardern's then-deputy chief of staff Rajesh Nahna to express her "deepest sympathies" and update them on Facebook's actions after the shootings, which included removing the accused gunman's Facebook and Instagram accounts, and any praise or support.

On March 18 she said Facebook wanted senior representatives to meet with Ardern, later confirming talking points including Facebook's actions to stop the video's spread and how they could work together to stop online hate.

The meeting never took place in New Zealand, but Ardern met Facebook VP of Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg, at the Christchurch Call in Paris.

Ardern told the Herald the Government wasn't receiving regular reporting in the same way as it was following the attacks, but was still regularly engaged with Facebook.