KARACHI/LONDON: Muttahida Qaumi Movement founder Altaf Hussain was on Tuesday taken into custody in London in connection with a probe launched by the British authorities into his alleged hate speeches.
This was for a second time that the 66-year-old politician, who has been in self-exile for over 27 years, was arrested in the United Kingdom.
He was picked up earlier in 2014 in connection with a money laundering investigation, but was released on bail after four days in detention. The investigation was dropped in 2016.
The UK authorities in their statement posted on the website of London Metropolitan Police said: “A man has been arrested in connection with an investigation into a number of speeches made by an individual associated with the MQM in Pakistan.” They did not name Mr Hussain.
However, the MQM-London’s official website, which has been unofficially blocked in Pakistan since Aug 22, 2016, said: “Mr Hussain has been taken for an interview at a London police station. The coordination committee is in constant consultations with a team of lawyers and in this regard all legal measures will be taken according to the UK law.”
While there has been a ban on Mr Hussain’s coverage by Pakistani TV channels, news of his arrest was flashed on news channels as breaking news in the afternoon as soon as the Metropolitan Police released the official statement.
According to the police statement, the arrest was made at an address in northwest London. The police stated: “He was arrested on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting offences contrary to Section 44 (intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence) of the Serious Crime Act 2007. The Section of 44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 makes it clear that “a person commits an offence if (a) he does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the commission of an offence; and (b) he intends to encourage or assist its commission”.
There is also protection for the suspect in Article 2 of the same Section 44 when it says “he is not to be taken to have intended to encourage or assist the commission of an offence merely because such encouragement or assistance was a foreseeable consequence of his act”.
The Met police made it clear that action at this stage was procedural in nature, as “he was detained under PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Order, 1989)” which sets out codes of practices in relation to searches of premises by police officers and seizure of property found by police on persons and premises and detention, treatment and questioning of persons by police officers.
“As part of the investigation, officers are carrying out a search at the north west London address. Detectives are also searching a separate commercial address in north west London,” the statement added.
Following the arrest, Mr Hussain was taken to the same Southward police station in London, where he had been detained in June 2014.
‘Liaison with Pakistan’
The UK authorities acknowledged in their statement that they had been in touch with Pakistan over Mr Hussain’s alleged hate speeches probe, which was being led by its officers from the counterterrorism command.
The statement explained that the probe “is focused on a speech broadcast in August 2016 as well as other speeches”.
“Throughout the investigation, officers have been liaising with Pakistani authorities in relation to our ongoing enquiries,” it said.
Only two months back, British officials had visited Islamabad, interviewed witnesses and collected evidence regarding Mr Hussain’s August 2016 speech.
Mr Hussain made many speeches during that month, but it appeared that the UK authorities were more focused on the incendiary speech he delivered on Aug 22, 2016 that followed a violent protest outside the offices of two media houses in Karachi.
A crackdown was launched following the speech and MQM’s headquarters and Mr Hussain’s residence in Azizabad were sealed. Later, Mr Hussain’s own party leaders in Pakistan distanced themselves from him and omitted his name from the party constitution.
The money-laundering investigations against Mr Hussain were quashed in October 2016 and not reinstated after repeated nudges and pushes by the Pakistani government and a Pakistan-based political party. The latest effort in this regard was a dossier with evidence against him handed over to the police authorities in September 2018.
Later on Sept 28, a Met police spokeswoman said: “In October 2016 the suspects in the case were advised that there would be no criminal prosecution following a police investigation and advice from the Crown Prosecution Service. All lines of inquiry have been exhausted, including international enquiries” She added since then officers from the Met’s National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit had been passed further material in relation to that money laundering investigation, which had all been assessed and no additional lines of enquiry identified.
Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2019