Custom Search

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Court of Appeal Quashes Convictions Over Extremist Literature

The situation is such that you will live another 30 years, maybe 40. When death will befall you, maybe then you will appreciate why I have gone now. At such news, there are parents in the world that would phone their families and friends and rejoice at the decision of their son..

This was a portion of a letter written by Mohammed Irfan Raja, who ran away from home to join four friends he had met in an online extremist chatroom in February 2006.

He left that note for his parents saying that he was going to fight abroad and that they would meet again in heaven.

Within days he realised his mistake and returned home, only to find that his shocked parents had already alerted the police. Mr Raja co-operated with detectives, leading to the arrest of all five of the group and the collection of the extremist material. This included publications popular among extreme Islamist organisations, encouraging Muslims to fight. One of the five had also used a computer to superimpose his own face on a montage of the 9/11 hijackers.

In July of 2007, all five men, Mohammed Irfan Raja, now 20, of Ilford, East London, and students Awaab Iqbal, 20, and Usman Ahmed Malik, 22, both of Bradford, West Yorkshire; Aitzaz Zafar, 21, of Rochdale, Lancashire; and Akbar Butt, 21, of Southall, West London, we tried and convicted for "possessing articles for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism, contrary to section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000."

They denied that those articles in their possession were intended to encourage terrorism or martyrdom and said they were being prosecuted for what they read and not anything they had done.

Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000 says :

(1) A person commits an offence if he possesses an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.

(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that his possession of the article was not for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.

(3) In proceedings for an offence under this section, if it is proved that an article—

(a) was on any premises at the same time as the accused, or

(b) was on premises of which the accused was the occupier or which he habitually used otherwise than as a member of the public,

the court may assume that the accused possessed the article, unless he proves that he did not know of its presence on the premises or that he had no control over it.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—

(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, to a fine or to both, or

(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both.

The Terrorism Act 200 can be found here and here is the page for Section 57.

Raja was sentenced to two years' youth detention, Zafar and Iqbal had been given three years' detention, Malik was sent to prison for three years and Butt was given 27 months' detention.

The Judge that presided over that case, Judge Peter Beaumont, said that the men were "preparing to train in Pakistan and then fight in Afghanistan against its allies, which included British soldiers."

Today the Court of Appeals "quashed" those convictions in what is being called a landmark ruling, with Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, saying "there was insufficient evidence that the men had ever meant to take action on the extremist material, and ordered their release."

Lawyers for the men, while admitting that there had been talk of heading to Pakistan for paramilitary training, claimed that the terrorism Act 2000 had been designed to catch people holding plans for bombs rather than propaganda and that their clients did not possess information that suggested they were plotting a bomb attack.

Lord Phillips, sitting between the other two judges, Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Bean, made the statement "Difficult questions of interpretation have been raised in this case by the attempt by the prosecution to use section 57 for a purpose for which it was not intended . . .

“We have concluded that, if section 57 is to have the certainty of meaning that the law requires, it must be interpreted in a way that requires a direct connection between the object possessed and the act of terrorism."

We do not consider that it was made plain to the jury, whether by the prosecution or by the Recorder, that the case that the appellants had to face was that they possessed the extremist material for use in the future to incite the commission of terrorist acts.

“We doubt whether the evidence supported such a case.”

The judges have ordered the release of the five men and prosecutors are not at this time seeking a retrial and the court was told by the Crown that they were considering whether to appeal to the House of Lords, as the case raises matters of public importance.

Crime and Security Editor of TimesOnline, Sean O'Neill, looks at the implications of today's appeal court ruling that quashed terror convictions for five men and concludes "terror ruling a major setback for police."

O'Neill believes that this ruling will redefine two sections of the Terrorism Act 2000 that have until now been used increasingly by the police and prosecutors .

He says that this ruling could have implications on about a half a dozen pending court cases.

The fact that they admitted they were planning to go train in Pakistan as well as the letter written to Raja's parents, clearly shows intent and I believe the Crown should bring this to appeal.