Brian Tamaki pleads not guilty to breaching COVID rules in first court appearance

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki has pleaded not guilty to organising and attending a gathering in breach of the COVID-19 requirements. 

Tamaki appeared before the Auckland District Court on Tuesday via audio-visual link on the charges that he intentionally failed to comply with the COVID-19 Public Health Response Order (No. 12) 2021 by organising and attending a gathering in an outdoor place at alert level 3. Also appearing was 57-year-old linesman Paul Thompson, who is facing the same charges

It comes after more than 1000 people met at the Auckland Domain earlier this month in protest over COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions. That was despite warnings from the Government not to proceed with the event amid fears it could lead to the spread of cases. 

Both Tamaki and Thompson, through their lawyers, have pleaded not guilty to the charges, with their defence being that the gathering was permitted within the requirements of the law.

The men were granted bail on the conditions they did not organise or attend any protest in breach of any current COVID-19 alert level requirement, they must observe all requirements and they cannot access the internet for the purpose of organising, attending or encouraging non-compliance in respect of the COVID-19 rules. 

Tamaki was represented by Ron Mansfield QC, and Thompson was represented by lawyer Sue Grey.

The maximum penalty for breaching the COVID-19 order is six months in prison or a fine not exceeding $4000.

Under alert level 3, most non-essential gatherings, where bubbles are intermingling are not permitted. However, weddings and funeral with a maximum of ten people can take place.

Since the October 2 Auckland Domain protest, the Freedom and Rights Coalition - which Tamaki is a member of - have confirmed they will hold another event on October 16. In a statement to Newshub last week, police reiterated that it was "made clear to organisers of a previous event, that protest action in breach of the COVID restrictions, risked attracting enforcement action". 

"Police is aware of a planned gathering next week, and is planning accordingly."

After Tamaki was received summons to court last week, he released a statement saying he would defend himself. 

"I am prepared to stand up and be heard when I see injustice and suffering. I am certainly not afraid to do so on any occasion, let alone at this vital time. I will defend my involvement and my right to do so. My community, my people, are too important for me to ignore the pain being caused by the Government's current policies."

He also said he was surprised by the charges as he had previously met with Police Commissioner Andrew Coster to speak about the event. 

Following the meeting, Coster wrote to Tamaki summarising their discussion. In the letter, provided to Newshub, Coster says Tamaki agreed to "mandate mask-wearing". Despite that, the Freedom and Rights Coalition's website said mask-wearing was a "personal choice".