LONDON: Altaf Hussain leaves the magistrate’s court after the proceedings on Thursday.—Photo by writer
LONDON: Altaf Hussain leaves the magistrate’s court after the proceedings on Thursday.—Photo by writer

LONDON: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder Altaf Hussain on Thursday was formally charged by detectives of the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command with a terror offence after a month-long investigation in an incitement to violence case. Mr Hussain, who was released from police custody on conditional bail, will appear before the central criminal court in London for the next hearing on Nov 1.

He was later taken to the court in a police vehicle, where he was produced before a magistrate who read out the charge sheet to him. The court granted him bail based on some conditions, which include restrictions to broadcasting speeches, a curfew which limits his movements outside his residence, a warning against application for a travel permit and the custody of his passport to police.

A handful of MQM supporters rushed from the police station in the London borough of Southwark to the court in Marylebone when news of his indictment became public.

Inside the courtroom, Mr Hussain sat in the dock as Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot informed him of the charges filed against him by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Met Police issued a statement confirming the indictment shortly after Mr Hussain arrived in the Southwark police station at 10am upon expiry of his bail. This was his third appearance before the authorities investigating this case, as he had previously been questioned by the police in September and June.

MQM founder gets conditional bail from court; next hearing on Nov 1

Mr Hussain has been charged under Section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2006 for encouraging terrorism during a speech he made in August 2016. If convicted, he could face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years along with a fine.

Describing the offence, the police statement said: “On 22 August 2016 [sic] 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.”

It added that Mr Hussain had been remanded in custody to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that he was previously arrested on 11 June 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.

“This decision today to charge him [Hussain] is a testament to the cooperation between the UK and Pakistan. This is what happens when two states work together in such a serious case. He is facing a very serious offence,” said British lawyer Toby Cadman, who said he had been hired by the Pakistani government to liaise on its behalf with British authorities in cases pertaining to the MQM.

Mr Hussain and his lawyer declined to comment; however, he smiled for members of the press and flashed a peace sign as he made his way out of the court towards his vehicle.

This is the first time the MQM supremo has been charged with any offence in the United Kingdom, where he has been living in self-imposed exile since 1991. The move comes as a blow to the party, which has maintained that Mr Hussain is innocent and that the allegations against him are fabricated.

On Sept 12, the MQM chief was grilled for five hours at the same police station in connection with the case. He was released with an extension in his bail.

The MQM founder was arrested by the Met Police on June 11 as part of the investigation into his alleged hate speeches. However, he was released on bail a day later by the British authorities without filing charges relating to the probe.

Police officers had in June searched two addresses linked to the MQM founder in northwest London. Police had also said that its officers had been liaising with the authorities in Pakistan in relation to their ongoing inquiry.

On Aug 22, 2016, hours after Mr Hussain had delivered the incendiary speech, MQM workers had attacked the ARY NEWS office in Kara­chi. Shortly after, the Rangers had detained a handful of senior MQM leaders overnight.

While addressing the MQM workers protesting outside the Karachi Press Club against “enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of workers”, the MQM supremo had not only raised slogans against Pakis­tan but also called the country “a cancer for entire world”.

The minister for interior at the time had asked British authorities to take action against Mr Hussain for “inciting people of Pakistan to violence”.

Our staff reporter from Karachi contributed to this report.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2019