LONDON: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) supremo Altaf Hussain appeared at the Kingston-upon-Thames crown court on Monday to mark the first day of his trial centering on a terrorism offence.
Mr Hussain was charged with inciting violence 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.
Mr Hussain has pleaded not guilty to the charge filed under Section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act (TACT) 2006.
The 68-year-old appeared confident and in high spirits as he entered the court premises flanked by London-based party workers and relatives. As he disembarked from his vehicle, he spoke briefly with reporters and said he has faith in the British judicial system but will not comment on the trial as it was a sub judice matter. He entered the court in a wheelchair.
“I have endured such difficulties and tests during my 45-year struggle numerous times,” he said. “God has given me strength and I have remained steadfast. I have not been despondent even in the face of the biggest challenges. Neither am I despondent today. I beseech my supporters not to pay attention to rumours during this difficult time, but stay united and pray.
MQM founder urges political parties to work for the prosperity, peace of Karachi
“I cannot comment on the present situation of Karachi, as to what should happen and what should not happen. I can give well wishes, and pray. Whoever is in politics and the parties there should work for the prosperity and peace of Pakistan’s biggest economic city.”
When asked about his health, Mr Hussain said he has not felt his best since he contracted Covid-19 early last year.
The hearing was adjourned after jury selection, with the jurors set to take oath before Justice May on Tuesday (today). Due to Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing rules, the courtroom had a limited number of seats.
The charge as stated by the UK police is that Mr Hussain had “on 22 August 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  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.”
The conditions of his bail include a bar on him to broadcast any speeches and remaining at his residence for a restricted amount of time each night. He is also barred from applying for a travel document and his passport will remain in police custody.
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, Mr Hussain has played an active role in politics, regularly broadcasting political speeches to his followers in Karachi.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2022