Appeal Frees 5 Students Jailed For ‘Jihadist’ Material

February 14, 2008 in news by Rob Hallam

Five British Muslim students jailed for downloading extremist material from the internet were released today, after the Appeal Court ruled their convictions were unsafe. The Lord Chief Justice said that although the evidence was clear that the five had accessed the jihadi websites and literature there was no proof of any terrorist intent, the BBC reports.

In a statement today via his solicitor, Malik said: “As I said when I was arrested, I do not, have not and will not support terrorism in any form against innocent people.

“My prosecution was a test case under the 2000 Terrorism Act. Today’s decision means no first year student can ever be prosecuted again under this Act for possessing extremist literature.”

Freeing the men, the Lord Chief Justice said there was no proof of terrorist intent. The lawyer for one said they had been jailed for a “thought crime”.

Critics inside the Muslim community and civil liberty campaigners say section 57 of the 2000 Terrorism Act has been used as a blunt instrument to prosecute young Muslim men where there is no proof of genuine links to terrorism. Imran Khan, solicitor for Mr Zafar, said the five had been prosecuted for “thought crime” and that the ruling would have an significant impact.

He said:

“Young Muslim men before this judgement could have been prosecuted simply for simply looking at any material on the basis that it might be connected in some way to terrorist purposes.”

The Islamic Human Rights Commission said it hoped Thursday’s judgement would stop the “criminalisation of Muslim youth for downloading and reading material that is widely available to everyone”.

Chairman Massoud Shadjareh said:

“Our anti terror strategy should target and bring to account those who plan criminal acts of terrorism. Instead individuals who write poetry, read blogs or download material from the internet are being targeted because of their ethnicity or religious affiliation.”

From the BBC, The Register and The Times Online.

Since this was a test case, it will hopefully have impacts on later cases. We may laugh and sigh at banning books (and rightly so), but the same thing is happening here. The lawyer said it was a thought crime, and so it was. Reading material of any sort should never be conflated with planning terrorism and it certainly should not be a crime.

“Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”
~Potter Stewart