Altaf Hussain acquitted,
UK court not found
him of encouraging
terrorism in Karachi

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LONDON: The day of Tuesday (15-02-22) was the day of success and celebration for MQM founder Altaf Hussain and his followers as a London court acquitted MQM supremo in a trial on charges of inciting viol­e­nce and encouraging terrorism in Karachi after a majority verdict of 10-2 was returned by 12 jurors.

MQM’s founder Altaf Hussain expressing gratitude to Allah after his acquittal outside the Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court on Tuesday. (Nation photo)

On the third day of deliberations at the Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court, the jury was directed to reach a majority decision after failing to reach a unanimous verdict. After nine hours, the jury found Altaf Hussain not guilty on two counts.

The MQM supremo was present in the court when the jury shared its decision before Mrs Justice May at the Kingston-upon-Thames crown court. Mr Hussain was told by the judge that he was free to leave. Two-week trial comes to a dramatic end as judge accepts majority verdict from jurors

Altaf Hussain came out from the court building raising slogan of “Allaho Akbar”, (Allah is greatest) and thanks to Allah. Outside the court, Mr Hussain was surrounded by supporters holding MQM flags. “The government and the courts of Pakistan should note that this trial had not just judges and a prosecution but also jury members who I have never seen in my life”, Altaf Hussain said.

“They all heard everything that was submitted as evidence, and the result is before you. Whether it is Pemra (the electronic media regulator in Pakistan) or anyone, they should lift the ban on my speeches,” he said.

LONDON: MQM founder Altaf Hussain and members of Coordination Committee of his party and other colleagues and followers celebrating God-thanks-giving at a victory ceremony at the Secretariate in London.

Corker Binning, who represented Mr Hussain during the trial, in a statement to Dawn said: “This has been a long process for Mr Hussain. Today he has been vindicated by an English jury. Justice has been done.”

The court announced the decision as jury deliberations entered day three on Tuesday. Mrs Justice May had last week directed the jurors to return a unanimous decision, but late on Tuesday accepted a majority decision — a widely accepted practice where the judge allows the verdict of at least 10 jurors if the jury is unable to return a unanimous verdict despite carefully considering and discussing the evidence. The jury deliberated for over nine hours before coming to a decision.

Altaf Hussain was charged with “encouraging terrorism” in an incendiary speech relayed from the United Kingdom to his followers in Pakistan on Aug 22, 2016. He was arrested and released on bail before charges were filed in 2019, three years after Scotland Yard launched an investigation into speeches made in the UK that allegedly encouraged violence in Karachi.

The indictment had been split into two separate counts, both relating to the offence of “encouraging terrorism”, contrary to section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act (TACT) 2006. Altaf Hussain had pleaded not guilty to both counts.

MQM Founder Altaf Hussain coming with colleague to Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court on Tuesday to listen decision of the court. (Nation photo)

The charge as stated by the UK police was that Hussain had “on August 22, 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”.

The Met Police at the time had also said: “Hussain was previously arrested on 11 June [2019] 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.”

Arguments in the trial had concluded last week. Although it was initially expected that Hussain would take the stand, ultimately his counsel shared with the court that he decided against it.

Altaf Hussain leaving his home in London for Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court. (Nation photo)

Justice May had said that Hussain’s decision was his right and that the jury could conclude that he did not give evidence at trial to undermine and contradict his speeches.

The MQM founder has lived in self-imposed exile in London since the early 1990s, when he applied for asylum. He was later granted British citizenship. From London, Hussain has played an active role in politics, regularly broadcasting political speeches to his followers in Karachi.

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.

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 News and Jang newspaper’s names came up during 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 that 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 charged. 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.

LONDON: MQM founder Altaf Hussain hugging his lawyer Barrister Rupert Bowers QC with tears after listening the historical verdict of the jury. MQM’s legal Counsel Mr. Adil Ghaffar Advocate also with Mr. Altaf Hussain.

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”.