UK Terror Convictions Overturned in "Landmark Judgement"


Five freed after terror convictions quashed

Rosalind Ryan and and agencies,
Wednesday February 13 2008

Five young Muslim men jailed by a judge who said they were "intoxicated" by extremist propaganda were today freed by the court of appeal in what their defence lawyers described as a landmark judgment.

The men had their convictions quashed by the lord chief justice, Lord Phillips, who was sitting with two other judges.

Phillips, who ordered their release, said there was no evidence they intended to use extremist Islamist material found on their computers for terrorism.

Four Bradford University students and a London schoolboy, Mohammed Irfan Raja, were arrested after the boy's parents contacted police.

He had run away from home, leaving them a note that said he was going to fight jihad abroad and would see them in heaven.

Last year, the five were sentenced to between two and three years at the Old Bailey for having extremist Islamist material on their computers.

The prosecution said all were planning to go to Pakistan for training before fighting jihad in Afghanistan.

Raja, now 20, of Ilford, east London, and students Awaab Iqbal, 20, of Bradford, 21-year-old Aitzaz Zafar, of Rochdale, Usman Ahmed Malik, 22, also of Bradford, and 21-year-old Akbar Butt, of Southall, west London, were in court to hear the ruling today.

Allowing their appeals, Lord Phillips, sitting with Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Bean, said: "We do not consider that it was made plain to the jury, whether by the prosecution or 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."

Defence lawyers said the effect of the ruling was that people could now download such material as long as they did not intend to use it.

The five had been convicted of 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.

"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," Lord Phillips said.

Raja was serving 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.

Peter Beaumont, the Recorder of London, had said the sentences had to be a deterrent.

All five denied having articles for terrorism and said the material, downloaded from various internet sites, was not intended to encourage terrorism or martyrdom.

They denied having extremist views, and some said they were researching ideology and other matters.

"This is a landmark judgment in a test case over the innocent possession of materials, including books and speech, and the court has finally agreed that this is in no way connected to terrorism," Malik's solicitor, Saghir Hussein, said.

"It was very difficult in the current climate for any jury to decide on anything apart from conviction.

"However, a more detached and informed court has recognised the draconian nature of sections 57/58. This will have implications for other cases, such as those alleging the glorification of terrorism."

Zafar's solicitor, Imran Khan, said the ruling meant young Muslims eager to learn more about their religion would no longer be victimised.

"My client is over the moon," he added. "He says it is surreal, and he cannot see why he has spent the last two years in prison for looking at material which he had no intention of using for terrorism."

The appeal judges heard that the prosecution was now considering whether to appeal to the House of Lords because the case raised a matter of public importance.

At the next level up

should the prosecution decide to take it there, we shall see if rationality or demagoguery prevails.

Also note that the 'thought control bill' is setting the stage for exactly the same battle for the right to possess information here in the U.S.

It is a war. Not one that any rational person would wish but one in which we are nonetheless entangled.

"There are none so hoplessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free." (Goethe)