–Lawyer says MQM founder charged with ‘encouraging terrorism’ which is a ‘very serious offence’
–Hussain granted conditional bail, subjected to night curfew besides seizure of passport
LONDON: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder Altaf Hussain was on Thursday charged with a terrorism offence in a case related to his incendiary speech relayed from the United Kingdom (UK) to his followers in Pakistan on August 22, 2016.
The MQM founder was taken into police custody and was produced before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Hussain appeared before Judge Emma Arbuthnot wearing dark glasses and holding a paper, as the charge against him was read out. He pleaded not guilty.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) asked for Hussain to be granted conditional bail. The conditions sought included a restriction on Hussain not to broadcast any message, either video or audio, via social media, radio, TV, or internet to people in the UK or overseas concerning this case or comment on the political situation in Pakistan.
Hussain’s lawyer Kate Goold informed the judge that her client was “gravely unwell”.
After he was informed of the bail conditions, Hussain while addressing the judge said: “It is a daily routine to arrest my MQM workers […] thousands of my workers have been disappeared and killed and you are putting a condition; if people are killed how can I keep quiet?”
Later in the day, Hussain was granted conditional bail.
The judge imposed a night curfew on him, which means he cannot leave his premises at night without informing the police. He has also been restrained from making speeches to the media or using social media.
The MQM founder can also not apply for travel permit and his passport would remain in custody. Night curfew as a condition is applied to serious offenders and those under investigation for serious offences. Electronic tagging is also done to ensure compliance.
The next hearing of the case will be held at the central criminal court on November 1.
Hussain, who had earlier in the day appeared at a London police station after his bail expired, was charged by detectives from the Met Police’s Counter Terrorism Command.
“Altaf Hussain […], of Abbey View, Mill Hill, NW7, was charged under section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act (TACT) 2006 with encouraging terrorism,” the Met Police said in a statement on its website.
The charge as stated by the UK police is that Hussain “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 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.”
‘VERY SERIOUS OFFENCE’:
Commenting on the development, Toby Cadman, a London-based lawyer who advises the Government of Pakistan on MQM-related cases, said the Met Police’s decision to charge Hussain was a “testament to the cooperation between the United Kingdom and Pakistan. This is what happens when two states work together in such a serious case.”
Speaking to reporters, he explained that the MQM founder was charged with “encouraging terrorism”, which is a “very serious offence”. He said Hussain will be presented before a magistrate, who will make a decision about either remanding him in custody or bailing him to the central criminal court where he will stand trial.
Cadman said Hussain was charged after the Crown Prosecution Service advised the Met Police that there is sufficient evidence to charge him.
Earlier on Thursday, Hussain had reached the Metropolitan Police Southwark Police Station, accompanied by a handful of London-based supporters.
This was his third appearance at the station in connection with the case.
On September 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.
Hussain had been 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 investigation that led to his arrest in June was led by the Met’s counterterrorism command, a statement released at the time said.
The Met said the inquiry was “focused on a speech broadcast in August 2016 by an individual associated with the MQM movement in Pakistan as well as other speeches previously broadcast by the same person”.
Officers in June had searched two addresses linked to the MQM founder in north-west London. Police had also said that its officers had been liaising with authorities in Pakistan in relation to their ongoing inquiry.