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Accused New Zealand mosque shooter pleads guilty to 51 murders, terrorism

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A suspected white supremacist accused of killing 51 Muslim worshippers in New Zealand’s worst mass shooting changed his plea to guilty in a surprise move on Thursday.

Brenton Tarrant, who appeared by video link, admitted to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of committing a terrorist act in a hastily called Christchurch High Court hearing.

“He has been convicted of each and every one of those charges,” presiding judge Justice Cameron Mander said in minutes of the hearing released by the court.

“The entry of guilty pleas represents a very significant step towards bringing finality to this criminal proceeding,” Justice Mander said.

Tarrant has been in police custody since March 15, 2019, when he was arrested and accused of using semi-automatic weapons to target Muslims attending Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch. The attack was streamed live on Facebook.

Tarrant, a 29-year-old Australian, had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Justice Mander said there was now no need for the six week trial that was previously due to begin on June 2.

The court will now sentence Tarrant on all 92 charges, but did not provide a date for that sentencing. Tarrant was remanded in custody until May 1.

Due to a nationwide lockdown in place for the coronavirus outbreak, Thursday’s court hearing took place with just 17 people in the courtroom, which included minimal staff, lawyers and some local media. An Iman for each of the two mosques attacked were also allowed to attend the hearing.

New Zealand announced a nationwide lockdown starting on Thursday, to combat the spread of coronavirus.

The court placed a one-hour embargo on reporting the news in order to inform family members and victims about what had taken place before it was made public.

“The guilty plea today will provide some relief to the many people whose lives were shattered by what happened on March 15,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement.

“These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial,” she said.

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China ‘harvesting organs from detained Muslims’ to treat coronavirus patients

China is illegally harvesting the organs of Muslims held in detention camps to treat its coronavirus patients, an investigative reporter has sensationally claimed.

More than 3m Uyghur Muslims – mostly in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang – are alleged to be held currently in so-called "reeducation camps" run by authorities.

Now investigative journalist CJ Werleman has claimed that China is meeting the massive demand for organ transplants as a result of the coronavirus crisis by harvesting them from Uyghur Muslims.

This isn't the first time it's been alleged China is harvesting organs from detained Muslims.

Last September, it was reported that hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs may have been killed in this horrifying practice.

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Writing in the independent news publication Byline Times, Werleman described the case of a Chinese coronavirus patient receiving the first double lung transplant in the country last week.

The 59-year-old had been given just days to live after suffering irreversible pulmonary damage after contracting COVID-19.

Werleman explained: "The fact that the patient had to wait a mere five days for a 'consenting' donor to provide a perfect matching set of lungs, raises further questions about the scale and scope of the country's illegal forced organ harvesting programme."

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He added that there were fears the detained Uyghurs were "being used as a kill-on-demand emergency backstop for Chinese coronavirus patients".

Werleman wasn't the only person to make the allegations about China's coronavirus response.

Bitter Winter, a publication which aims to expose China's human rights abuses, wrote: "While around the world waiting times for a single lung from a suitable donor could be years, China has shown this week that it need only be days, for two perfectly matched lungs to be rustled up."

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The new is all the more suspicious given the country has one of the lowest organ donor rates in the world, with a voluntary donor rate of just one for every 2m citizens.

This compares with other nations such as the US, where almost half of the country are registered organ donors.

According to the Journal of Biomedical Research, of the 1.5m Chinese citizens in need of an organ transplant donor each year, fewer than 10,000 receive a successful match and organ, or just one in 150.

In a recent interview, a Chinese woman claimed that Uyghur Muslims were being "slaughtered on demand" to meet China's needs.

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An independent panel of British lawyers and human rights activists, the China Tribunal, also claimed China has established in recent years an illegal forced organ harvesting programme on an industrial scale.

Most of the organs are alleged to be taken from slaughtered political prisoners, with many of them sold to foreigners.

Beijing has repeatedly denied accusations that it forcibly removes organs from prisoners, and claims it stopped using organs from executed prisoners five years ago.

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