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Pakistan

March 21, 2020

Lawyer tells Old Bailey Altaf was unhappy with Geo before inciting violence

Pakistan

Sat, Mar 21, 2020
MQM founder Altaf Hussain. Photo: file

LONDON: The Old Bailey has heard from the lawyer of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder and leader Altaf Hussain that the MQM supremo didn’t like the editorial stance of Geo News when he ordered his workers in August 2016 to attack several media houses in the port city of Karachi.

Altaf’s lawyer Joel Bennathan QC told the court on Friday that the MQM founder was upset and agitated at the way Geo News and two other news channels – Samaa and ARY – censored his speeches and didn’t provide him coverage prior to Hussain’s infamous 22nd August, 2016 address which ultimately led to the unraveling of his party and politics.

Honourable Mrs Justice May QC DBE heard arguments from both the defence and prosecution lawyers after Altaf filed an application with the court for the complete dismissal of the charges against him. The MQM founder didn’t appear in person due to the coronavirus outbreak. The court gave him exemption from personal appearance as Hussain had told the court that he was in a frail condition.

The judge rejected Altaf's application for the dismissal of charges related to incitement of terrorism maintaining that a trial will go ahead in summer this year and only a jury will decide whether or not the MQM supremo is guilty.

Mark Haywood QC and Jonathan Polnay represented the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Hussain's legal team argued that the charges were not true, not in accordance with the anti-terrorism laws and not appropriate and therefore should be dismissed.

Hussain’s lawyer said that the MQM founder had made the speech only for “political purposes” and didn’t encourage terrorism and didn’t mean to do anything violent including damage to properties or intimidation of opponents or any state institution or the media house. He said the MQM supreme was only “unhappy” with Geo News and two other channels because “these stations had “stopped speeches of Altaf Hussain as a matter of policy over killings of his workers”. He was annoyed that he was not given his due share, said Hussain's lawyer. He told the judge that Hussain’s speech was not deigned to intimidate public and damage property. He told the court that Scotland Yard didn’t arrest Hussain under anti-terrorism laws and decided to charge him only after an “intense period of lobbying by the Pakistan govt after the arrest”. It’s understood that Hussain’s advisors and legal team are of the view that the Karachi-based Sarfraz Merchant, who was once a co-accused in the money laundering investigation involving Altaf, is involved in coordinating the legal effort against him after initially turning against his former friend nearly four years ago. Merchant was investigated with Hussain, Muhammad Anwar, Tariq Mir and others for over two years in the money-laundering case. In TV interviews, Merchant revealed details of how large amounts were moved around and how he gave money to the MQM founder and people close to him.

Hussain’s lawyer suggested to the judge that the Pakistani government is influencing the CPS case. 

The prosecutors told the court that charges against Hussain should stay and a trial set for mid summer this year should go ahead. They told the judge that Hussain had openly incited violence against the officials of Rangers, police and media. The prosecutors made reference to Hussain’s speeches in which he issued direct threats to senior Rangers' officers. They told the judge that remarks Hussain's remarks should be seen in the particular context of MQM’s history and politics. He said Hussain had apologized on the record for the same remarks and the fact remains that he ordered his supports to march on the offices of Geo, ARY and Samaa in order to intimidate them.

Hussain, a 66-year-old political exile living in London for more than two decades, was charged with encouraging terrorism after a speech he made in 2016 to supporters in Karachi, which was also followed by violent protests.

He faces several years in imprisonment for the speech which was "likely to be understood" as encouraging supporters to acts of terrorism, or was "reckless" of the possible consequences.

A statement by Scotland Yard said at the wen the MQM founder was charged: "Hussain, 66, who lives in Mill Hill, north London, was charged under the Terrorism Act 2006. On 22 August 2016 published a speech to crowds gathered in Karachi, Pakistan which were likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom they were published as a direct or indirect encouragement to them to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism and at the time he published them, intended them to be so encouraged, or was reckless as to whether they would be so encouraged. Hussain was previously arrested on 11 June on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting offences contrary to Section 44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007. He was released on bail and subsequently charged as above."

The UK authorities launched an investigation into the matter after an FIR was lodged in Karachi naming Altaf as the instigator.