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The UK news programme that took on MQM

Updated July 11, 2013
— Video grab from the programme 'Newsnight'.
— Video grab from the programme 'Newsnight'.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Mr. Altaf Hussain is being investigated for money laundering worth at least 400,000 pounds as well as for incitement to violence, The UK’s BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight’ reported on early Thursday morning.

The news was part of a short documentary prepared by Newsnight on the MQM, and included video clips of Mr. Hussain making violent statements, an outline of the death of assassinated party leader Imran Farooq, as well as interviews with a former MQM leader, a policeman accusing the party of murder, and party leader Farooq Sattar.

Starting out the show with a clip showing Mr. Hussain saying “We will prepare your body bags,” host Jeremy Paxman posed the question: “Supposing if it (Britain) was offering sanctuary to an organisation that was using Britain as a base from which to threaten and persecute others?”

He then described the MQM as “one of the most feared political organisations in Pakistan,” and said Mr. Hussain is accused of 30 murders here, which he denies.

The programme then showed the MQM chief’s house, with reporter Owen Bennett Jones pointing out that a police raid had taken place there earlier in connection with the Imran Farooq murder. Describing Mr. Hussain, he said “he exerts total control over his party” from London.

According to NewsNight, “The police found hundreds of thousands of pounds of unaccounted for cash and that led to a money laundering investigation.” The Metropolitan Police are also investigating “Whether he’s using his London base to incite violence in Pakistan,” and whether his speeches are a breach of the law.

According to a London-based terrorism barrister named Ali Naseem Bajwa, who was interviewed by BBC Two for the documentary, Mr. Hussain’s speeches are potentially a “terrorism offence” – The use of threat of force, made for a political cause, designed to influence the government “all seem to be made out” in the MQM’s chief’s case according to the barrister.

NewsNight then shows senior MQM leader Farooq Sattar saying, “I categorically deny and refute that Mr. Hussain would have ever said what you are saying,” after the reporter asks him about the MQM chief’s violent language. At the same time, the BBC programme shows Sattar sitting in the audience while Mr. Hussain speaks “about tearing open abdomens”.

The programme also showed an interview with an ex-MQM member, who was, according to them, the only former party member who was willing to talk. The ex-member, Naim Ahmed appeared openly and said “They are not a peaceful party, they are a militant group, they are like a bunch of mafias …. They are an ideal party for violence.” Describing how he would question neighbourhood youth who would commit acts of violence in the name of MQM, Ahmed said “They directly said, ‘we got our order from London.’”

The documentary then shows a Pakistani policeman who got asylum in Europe who received threats from both MQM and the Taliban. The programme changed his name and voice, and obscured his image in order to ensure his anonymity. The policeman said he was threatened by the MQM for arresting people working with the party, and that he did not only receive death threats, but also, twenty of his colleagues were killed.

Speaking of the low rate of convictions he said “Nobody wants to give evidence against MQM ... If they try to, MQM will kill them and their families.”

The documentary’s narrative adds that for twenty years, Pakistani leaders have asked London to control Mr. Hussain. The programme adds that according to the MQM, whenever it needs British visas, the home office issues them almost without exception.”

NewsNight then quotes two member of the House of Lords, one who fears going to Karachi will get him killed (as he is openly critical of the MQM), and another who says she doesn’t ask questions about the party because, the programme quotes, “She’s got a child to worry about”.

The BBC Two programme also confirmed, as a possible reason for London’s dealings with the MQM, a letter sent from the MQM chief to 10 Downing Street weeks after 9/11 offering human intelligence on Jihadi networks in Pakistan. After years of the foreign office refusing to acknowledge the authenticity of the letter, NewsNight confirmed in accordance with the Freedom Information Act that this letter had in fact been sent to number 10 and subsequently forwarded to the Foreign Office.

The last five minutes of the programme show host Jeremy Paxman interviewing Sattar, who defends his party by saying, “The BBC is a very reputable organisation but it seems that there has been influence of pro-Taliban and radical forces while this documentary was being prepared.”

When pressed about the party chief’s statements on preparing body bags, he denied it and said, “People were just laughing. It’s malicious propaganda and a media trial against a secular middle and working class party, that is MQM by the perpetrators of status quo and a political corrupt culture.”

He also said, on being asked, that “I would categorically deny and refute that there is any proof of any order coming from London, and as a result of that, anybody got killed.”

When asked about the money laundering investigations, he said he did not know the amount of money seized (Paxman said 150,000 pounds from his office and 250,000 from his house).

Sattar added, “I would not like to comment any further. Whenever any court or proper investigation will ask, I will answer that. I don’t think this has to be made a subject of a media trial …Whatever it was for, it’s a matter of investigation – let the investigation be completed.”

When Sattar said that no one was arrested, no charge has been framed and no court case has been presented, programme host Paxman added “yet”.

Referring to the money laundering investigation, Sattar added, “You have the right to say whatever you say, but you’re not the judge of that. You can’t say that during a raid, if some money was found, that it should be directly interpreted as illegally gotten.”

The senior MQM leader said that the party was willing to fully cooperate on the Dr Imran Farooq murder, but had issues with the way investigations were being conducted into the procedures of party matters.

Many observers who watched the programme said that it did not reveal anything which has not already been discussed in the past -- rather, 'News Night' brought together a lot of information which has already been spoken of and analysed.