LONDON: A jury in London has found Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder Altaf Hussain not guilty of encouraging terrorism in Karachi contrary to section 1(2) of UK's Terrorism Act 2006.
At the Kingston Crown Court, a majority of the jury (10 out of 12) declared before Mrs Justice May that they had found Altaf Hussain not to be in violation of the UK’s anti-Terrorism laws on 22nd August 2016 when he made two speeches from London to his followers in Karachi.
Altaf Hussain had been charged with two counts of encouraging terrorism contrary to section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2006. These relate to two speeches Hussain made on 22n August – first in the morning UK Time and second in the afternoon UK Time – in which he had been alleged by the Crown to have published speeches to crowds “gathered in Karachi, Pakistan the contents of 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”.
The CPS had alleged that Altaf Hussain had asked his followers to attack the offices of Geo, ARY and Samaa and shut down the transmission of Geo and other channels for not publishing his pictures, videos and statements after being banned by the Lahore High Court. Geo and Jang newspaper’s name came up in the proceedings repeatedly as Altaf Hussain mentioned in his speeches that Geo and other channels should be questioned and held accountable for not airing his speeches.
The prosecution had alleged that Altaf Hussain urged violence in his morning speech and asked his followers to bring out DG Rangers Bilal Akbar from the Rangers HQ and also asked his followers to be prepared for violent acts. The prosecution said that the actual violence took place when Hussain made speech in the afternoon to the hunger strike camp of his party set outside the Karachi Press Club from where the MQM followers marched towards offices of television channels and violence took place outside ARY’s office where one MQM worker died, several people were injured and vehicle were put on fire.
The prosecution presented Brighton University teacher Dr Nichola Khan as its main expert witness on Karachi and MQM’s politics. She told the court that MQM was a victim of the state violence and there was no doubt that Altaf Hussain’s followers were killed, kidnapped, disappeared and tortured and that the law enforcement agencies operated with impunity and were involved in human rights violations. She also told the court that in turn the MQM was also involved in violence and maintained a militant wing which was never publicly owned and accepted by the party leadership.
After the prosecution case was over, the MQM leader decided not to stand in the witness box for cross-examination by the prosecution. The prosecution told the jury that Altaf Hussain did not “answer, apologise, explain” his innocence or give answers to obvious questions because he doesn’t “doesn’t have an answer”.
Altaf Hussain’s lawyer Rupert Bowers QC had told the jury that it didn’t make sense that Altaf would stand in the dock over events which took place six years ago. He stressed to the jury that Altaf didn’t have anything to hide from the jury and the fact that he apologised on Twitter after his two speeches clearly demonstrated his regret about what happened following his speeches. He stressed, however, that Altaf Hussain’s apology should not be construed as an admission of guilt or wrongdoing.
This was the same stance Altaf Hussain adopted when he was interviewed by the police in 2019 when arrested before being chared. He had told the police that he did nothing wrong and stood by the words of his speech.
Mrs Justice May had given directions to the jury that while convicting Mr Hussain, the jury has to be completely satisfied that Hussain published a speech, that his statements were likely to be understood by a reasonable person hearing them of encouraging terrorism and that Mr Hussain either intended or was reckless as to whether members of the public would be encouraged to commit acts of violence after hearing those broadcast speeches.
The judge had directed that the prosecution does not have to prove that terrorist acts actually occurred. The judge directed that when considering the act of terrorism, the jury must consider the type of act, its design and purpose. To convict, the jury must be persuaded that the act was done to further a religious, political, ideological or racial cause, regardless of whether the cause was justified or not.
The prosecution’s case was that what Altaf Hussain asked of his MQM followers were acts of terrorism, designed to influence the government, and that they were done for a political objective and for that Mr Hussain encouraged violence and that the “whole tone, content and method used” in his speeches “was designed to get the crowd to do something”.
The defence lawyer Rupert Bowers QC had told Kingston Crown Court that Mr Hussain is not a terrorist and should not be convicted of two counts of encouraging terrorism.
The QC had said the jury has been asked by the prosecution not to measure Altaf’s case against cultural yardstick of Pakistan but the yardstick of the law of England and Wales is not same as the yardstick applies in Pakistani context.
He asked the jury to consider what qualifies as terrorism and it is the type of act, design behind the act and purpose of the act. He said the jury should not find Altaf Hussain guilty if they are not sure that he encouraged acts of violence against persons and properties and he will not be guilty if it falls short of “serious violence to persons/property”.
Rupert Bowers QC said it was the prosecution’s witness Dr Nichola Khan who told the court about the “endemic violence that exists in Pakistan, in Karachi” and that’s why the jury should, while applying the law to the actual facts of this case, should consider “what Hussain understood or intended, and what people understood”.
Rupert Bowers QC said the MQM has faced violence in Karachi, throughout and leading up to the 22nd of August 2016 and there was another push by the state against MQM and its followers and a ban was placed on Altaf Hussain. He told the jury that a ban of that kind would be inconceivable in the UK on any leader, as happened in the case of Altaf Hussain and this was confirmed by the prosecution expert witness.
He said that exaggeration happens in Pakistani political context and he knew that he cannot take on the Pakistan Army and didn’t even know if Bilal Akbar was inside the Rangers HQ or not.
Rupert Bowers QC had asked the jury not to convict Altaf Hussain because he “did nothing other than that he has always done in trying to represent an oppressed part of a population by organising what is axiomatically a peaceful protest”.
Altaf Hussain’s lawyer had concluded: “If violence ensued in the latter part of that day, you’ve seen it, he’s regretful of that. In my submission to you, he’s not a terrorist, and I ask you to acquit.”
The jury decided not to convict Altaf Hussain who arrived in the UK around three decades ago. He has never returned to Pakistan ever since but effectively controlled the biggest city of Pakistan until August 2016 when his party split over the same speech for which he has been convicted now. His supporters are not allowed to publicly carry out their activities in Karachi but, according to intelligence sources, his soft support remains in the city, amongst a significant section of the Muhajir communities.
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