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Updated 15 Feb, 2022 07:29pm

Jury retires to deliberate verdict in Altaf Hussain UK trial

LONDON: Arguments in the “encouraging terrorism” case being heard at the Kingston-upon-Thames crown court over the past two weeks concluded on Friday, with the jury retiring to deliberate whether MQM supremo Altaf Hussain should be convicted or acquitted of a terror charge.

The indictment has been split into two separate counts, both relating to the offence of “encouraging terrorism”, contrary to section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2006. The counts relate to two different speeches made by Mr Hussain on Aug 22, 2016, which form the basis of the case.

A verdict is expected in the coming week. Instructions given to jurors by Mrs Justice May set out that the verdicts in each count may be the same but do not have to be.

Although it was initially expected that Mr Hussain would take the stand, ultimately his counsel shared with the court that he decided against it.

Mrs Justice May said that Mr 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.

“You can conclude that Mr Hussain did not have an answer to the prosecution’s case, but you cannot convict him on silence, as the prosecution has to prove guilt in order for you to come to that conclusion,” she said.

Judge splits indictment into two counts on terror charge; MQM leader decides not to take the stand

The prosecution used the opportunity to demonstrate that Mr Hussain did not “answer, apologise, explain” his innocence or give answers to obvious questions. “There is a reason for that: he [Mr Hussain] doesn’t have an answer or at least one that he could give and sit down, but one he would have to justify.”

The defence counsel, however, said Mr Hussain did not have more to add. “Would it help if he got into the dock six years later and talked about things burning on a video? Don’t feel he’s hiding anything — really what more is there to say about this?”

The defence counsel said Mr Hussain’s apology on Twitter after the speeches demonstrated his regret about what happened. He said people apologised for all sorts of reasons, but it should not be construed as an admission of wrongdoing.

Jurors asked to consider ‘yardstick’

According to directions given to the jury by Mrs Justice May, to convict Mr Hussain the jury has to be satisfied that he 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 said the prosecution does not have to prove that acts of terrorism occurred, though that is their submission. The meaning of intention and reckless, the jurors heard, was for them to determine. Mr Hussain was reckless, the judge said, if he was aware of a risk of violence but unreasonably decided to take it anyway.

When considering the act of terrorism, the judge said 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.

In its final statement to jurors, the prosecution said the word ‘terrorism’ though in layman’s terms may be up for a debate around morality but for this court must be viewed as set out by English law against the yardstick determined by the parliament.

The prosecution stressed that what Mr Hussain asked and commanded of his followers were acts of terrorism, designed to influence the government, and that they were done for a political cause.

The prosecution said Mr Hussain employed various kinds of rhetoric from a position of political power and leadership, which relied on the devotion of his supporters.

It said Mr Hussain used this vantage point to encourage violence and that the “whole tone, content and method used was designed to get the crowd to do something”.

It argued that this objective was to deploy them in an overwhelming force to “trash and smash” TV stations and that he contemplated a level of death and injury. “He knows he has the devotion and loyalty of his followers. [It is like he is] pulling them on a piece of elastic, throwing them away and they come bounding back.”

The defence rested its case on a different yardstick by which the jury should evaluate the evidence. The defence lawyer stressed the “differences between realities in England and Wales and Pakistan” when it comes to rights and privileges.

“The events in large part…all take place many many miles away in a different jurisdiction, language, culture, with a very different political context. The way state actors, government, police, other state bodies [act is] completely different to what we experience here. [There is a] different concept of rights, of how humans are treated particularly by those state actors,” the defence argued.

The defence contended that it was wrong to measure the evidence against the yardstick of English law, as the events took place in Pakistan where a “different cultural yardstick” should be applied.

“You are being required to put yourself in the shoes of not the reasonable person with the experience of living in southwest London, with all the freedoms and rights we have enjoyed. You have to put yourself in the place of a reasonable person in Karachi, to people in a tent listening to the speeches,” the defence argued. “You can’t have that experience, of being in that tent, but that’s the task required of you.”

The argument from the defence continued on this point, with the lawyer saying jurors would have to get “into Altaf’s head” and how he understood what was happening.

In conclusion, the defence submitted that Mr Hussain intended no serious violence to come from his speeches and that he intended to be a figurehead for those he represents. The lawyer described Mr Hussain as a “progressive, liberal, someone who stands up for women’s rights, someone against Taliban and Al Qaeda and someone who fights by the yardstick of England for rights that we all enjoy”.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2022

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