Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Altaf Hussain found not guilty of encouraging terrorism in Karachi

Altaf Hussain had been charged with two counts of encouraging terrorism contrary to section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2006

MQM supremo Altaf Hussain celebrates with his colleagues outside the court in London on February 15, 2022. — Murtaza Ali Shah
MQM supremo Altaf Hussain celebrates with his colleagues outside the court in London on February 15, 2022. — Murtaza Ali Shah

  • A majority of the jury (10 out of 12) declared Altaf Hussain not to be in violation of the UK’s Anti-Terrorism laws on 22nd August 2016.
  • Altaf Hussain had been charged with two counts of encouraging terrorism contrary to section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2006.
  • Following verdict, Hussain says he is thankful to Allah, while party members celebrate outside court.

LONDON: The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Altaf Hussain has been found not guilty of encouraging terrorism in Karachi from London, contrary to the UK's section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2006.

In a huge relief and a massive personal victory for the exiled MQM leader, a jury of 12 declared that Altaf Hussain had not been involved in encouraging acts of terrorism. After attending and hearing the trial for nearly two weeks on a daily basis and after deliberating on the decision for three days, the jury members told Mrs Justice May that they had found Altaf Hussain not guilty of the charges brought by the Crown Prosecution Service.

"This court is adjourned and Mr Altaf Hussain is free to go home," declared the judge and left the room.

In a statement, David Corker, partner at criminal law firm Corker Binning, who represented Mr Hussain during the trial, told this reporter in a statement: "This has been a long process for Mr Hussain. Today, he has been vindicated by an English jury. Justice has been done. "

 The decision to acquit came as a shock and surprise to both Altaf Hussain and the prosecution. Altaf Hussain was mentally prepared to go to jail and told this reporter on several occasions during the trial that he was ready to go to jail. The prosecution had invested too much in the case, both in terms of preparation and money.

Emotional scenes erupted inside the courtroom as Altaf Hussain cried in happiness. He was accompanied by almost a dozen diehard supporters at every court appearance, and all of them started crying with joy and happiness. They couldn’t believe the shocking outcome of the case in which Altaf Hussain’s own lawyers had told them that there was a chance that Altaf Hussain could go down on at least one count. For around 20 minutes, Altaf Hussain and his supporters couldn’t control their tears and kept hugging each other.

Outside the court, five members of the jury of the total 12—who declared Altaf not guilty made his videos, posed with him, and congratulated him. Altaf Hussain kneeled before them and thanked them for "upholding justice and the truth." For about seven minutes, Altaf Hussain addressed the jury members and told them about his personal struggle and what he stood for. The jury members listened to him quietly. Jury members are not allowed to know about the defendant during the trial and should not maintain any kind of contact with the parties in the case. They are allowed to meet and interact with the defendant after the decision is given.

Altaf Hussain made a long and conciliatory speech outside the court. Answering, Altaf said he had apologised for raising an anti-Pakistan slogan, but he said he didn’t apologise for the rest of his speech, not during the police interview, not during the trial. "I was banned from TV and I spoke about the rights of Muhajirs. I highlighted their miseries and their sufferings, the issue of disappearances, killings, and torture of Muhajir youth. I will never apologise for that, "he said.

An hour before Hussain was declared not guilty, the jury told the judge that they had not arrived at the unanimous verdict to convict Altaf. The judge then directed the jury to return a verdict of 10-2. An hour later, the jury returned and announced that they had found Altaf not guilty on both counts.

Altaf Hussain has been charged with two counts of encouraging terrorism contrary to section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2006 for making two speeches on August 22, 2016 from London to his followers in Karachi.

This relates to two speeches Hussain made on August 22 – first in the morning UK Time and second in the afternoon UK Time – in which he had been alleged by the Crown to have published speeches to crowds "gathered in Karachi, Pakistan, the contents of 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 CPS had alleged that Altaf Hussain had asked his followers to attack the offices of Geo, ARY, and Samaa and shut down the transmission of Geo and other channels for not publishing his pictures, videos, and statements after being banned by the Lahore High Court. 

The prosecution said that the actual violence took place when Hussain made a speech in the afternoon to the hunger strike camp of his party set outside the Karachi Press Club, from where the MQM followers marched towards the offices of television channels, and violence took place outside ARY’s office, where one MQM worker died, several people were injured, and vehicles were put on fire.

The prosecution presented Brighton University teacher Dr Nichola Khan as its main expert witness on Karachi and MQM’s politics. She told the court that MQM was a victim of state violence and that there was no doubt that Altaf Hussain’s followers were killed, kidnapped, disappeared, and tortured and that the law enforcement agencies operated with impunity and were involved in human rights violations. 

She also told the court that, in turn, the MQM was also involved in violence and maintained a militant wing that was never publicly owned and accepted by the party leadership.

Altaf Hussain’s lawyer, Rupert Bowers QC, did an outstanding job for his client by convincing the jury that Hussain may have used unfavourable language and may have annoyed a lot of people, but he didn’t incite terrorism. Instead, he portrayed him as someone who stood for the rights of women, democracy, and progressive politics. He also convinced the jury that the CPS had failed to show that the August 22 violence was due to Altaf Hussain’s words.

He said that exaggeration happens in the Pakistani political context and he knew that he could not take on the Pakistan Army and didn’t even know if Bilal Akbar was inside the Rangers HQ or not.

Rupert Bowers QC had asked the jury not to convict Altaf Hussain because he "did nothing other than that which he has always done in trying to represent an oppressed part of the population by organising what is axiomatically a peaceful protest".

Altaf Hussain’s lawyer concluded: "If violence ensued in the latter part of that day, you’ve seen it, he’s regretful of that." In my submission to you, he’s not a terrorist, and I ask you to acquit. "

The jury decided not to convict Altaf Hussain, who arrived in the UK around three decades ago. He has never returned to Pakistan ever since but effectively controlled the biggest city in Pakistan until August 2016 when his party split over the same speech for which he has been convicted now. His supporters aren't allowed to do anything public in Karachi, but intelligence sources say that he still has a lot of support in the city, especially in the Muhajir communities.