LONDON: The Central Criminal Court of London on Friday extended the bail of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder Altaf Hussain in the incitement to violence case after he appeared before a judge via video link.
The court also decided to hold a preliminary hearing on March 20, 2020, and begin the trial on June 1.
Hussain appeared before Justice Sweeney via video link at the crown court famously known as Old Bailey, after a Magistrates court on October 10 passed his case here for trial. It is not uncommon for a hearing of this nature to be conducted via video link. Courts in England may opt for prisoner video link (PVL) to save costs, for security measures or at the request of a lawyer.
On October 11, Hussain was formally charged by the Crown Prosecution Service 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.
The court last month had granted him bail based on 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.
The conditions will remain in effect while he is on bail.
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 Hussain is innocent and that the allegations against him are fabricated.
On Aug 22, 2016, hours after 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”.
On Sept 12 this year, 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.