More than 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for Destiny Church pastor Brian Tamaki to be charged for his involvement in an anti-lockdown protest on the weekend.
More than 1000 people turned up to the event in Auckland run by Tamaki's group, the Freedom and Rights Coalition, which opposes the Government's coronavirus restrictions. Protests were also held in Christchurch and Wellington.
The Auckland crowd of people include gang members on motorbikes, young children and elderly, many not following social distancing rules or wearing masks. Some bore signs and personalised T-shirts promoting "pro-choice" and "freedom from lockdown", with one sign reading "free 2 parent" and a T-shirt saying "free to choose".
But the protest didn't go down well with fed up Aucklanders who have been in lockdown for seven weeks.
The petition, which had 40,130 signatures at the time of writing, says Tamaki should be charged for flouting lockdown rules and "actively encouraging others to break the rules and continues to disrupt our COVID recovery efforts."
"On Saturday the 2nd of October 2021, while under level 3 lockdown, Brian Tamaki and associates organised and held an outdoor protest with in excess of 2000 people congregating at Auckland Domain," the petition reads.
"All involved were in breach of the current regulations covering groups and gatherings.
"To date the New Zealand Police response over Tamaki's actions has been abysmal. Please show your support to send the message that we want out of lockdown and acknowledge that with events like these occurring this will potentially impact on our Christmas holiday period separating family and friends unnecessarily all for the ego and wallet of one very selfish individual.
"Brian Tamaki has flouted the rules since day one, he is actively encouraging others to break the rules and continues to disrupt our COVID recovery efforts. Send a message that this is NOT OK!"
But Tamaki remained defiant despite the criticism, saying people should be thanking him.
"If any true democracy-loving caring NZer (not just Aucklanders) value their Freedoms 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," he said in a Facebook post.
"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."
City Impact Church founder Peter Mortlock is also under fire for his involvement in promoting the protest.
Investigative journalist David Farrier called Mortlock out after he posted a video on Instagram urging people from his church to attend the protest.
"This Saturday there is a gathering and it's about freedom and it's in the park in town and a lot of people are going to it. It's your choice whether you want to go or not, I know there will be all sorts of controversy over it but it's under the Freedom and Rights Coalition," Mortlock said in the video.
"If you want to go I want to let you know about it and I think sooner or later we are going to have to make a stand, a stand for our rights as our freedoms are being stripped away."
On Sunday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern slammed the protest saying it was a "slap in the face" to Aucklanders.
"I do myself have a personal view on the protest itself," she says. "It was wrong and obviously illegal but it was also morally wrong.
"What does it say to every Aucklander who has given up a huge amount over the past few weeks to do the right thing and keep other Aucklanders safe?
"It was a slap in the face to them."
Police say while the gathering at the Auckland Domain breached the alert level 3 restrictions, no one has been arrested or charged so far.
City Impact Church has been contacted for comment.