from left to right: Awaab Iqbal, Aitzaz Zafar, Usman Malik, Mohammed Irfan Raja and Akbar ButtAt last the UK Appeal Court has ruled against Britain’s inequitable anti-terrorism law. The so-called “Bradford 5” – Awaab Iqbal, Aitzaz Zafar, Usman Malik, Mohammed Irfan Raja and Akbar Butt – were jailed last year for possessing and sharing extremist terror-related material, such as jihadi handbooks and guides to the manufacture of explosives. But 3 appeals court judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that mere possession of such materials is not illegal and quashed the convictions.
This action has dealt a serious blow to a major aspect of the UK’s anti-terror laws. Under the Terrorism Act (2000), “a person commits an offence if he possesses an article in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.” Prosecution lawyers have argued that simply obtaining and sharing extremist literature was an offence under the law.
However, Lord Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice, has now ruled against this interpretation and said there must be “a direct connection between the object possessed and the act of terrorism.”
The government are not happy about this – they were very keen on having legislation that banned certain types of literature – and it’s possible the prosecution will appeal against this ruling. But human rights organisations, and freedom-loving people everywhere, are rejoicing. The Terrorism Act’s provisions against the possession of extremist material has been called a “thought crime”.
Imran Khan, solicitor for Mr Zafar, said: “My client is over the moon. He says it is surreal and he cannot see why he has spent the last two years in prison for looking at material which he had no intention of using for terrorism.
“Young people should not be frightened of exploring their world. There will always be people out there with wrong intentions, but we must not criminalise people for simply looking at material, whether it is good or bad.”
The conviction of the five young Muslim men was regarded as a test case, and is now set to lead to prosecutions against others being dropped. These include the conviction of 23-year-old Samina Malik – the so-called “lyrical terrorist”. She was the first woman to be convicted under the Terrorism Act and was given a nine months suspended sentence in December after being found guilty of possessing terrorist manuals.