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Sentencing of Mohammed Atif Siddique

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
5.30pm Tuesday 23 Oct 2007
For immediate release

At Edinburgh High Court today, Lord Carloway sentenced Mohammed Atif Siddique - convicted last month of "terrorism" offences - to a total of 8 years in jail. The sentence is to run from the time Mr Siddique was first taken into custody.

And in a surprise development, the judge criticised Mr Siddique's solicitor, Aamer Anwar, over a statement he released on the day of Mr Siddique's conviction. The judge is considering whether to initiate contempt proceedings against Aamer Anwar. Such a move would be unprecedented and would be sure to send shock waves through the legal profession.

Standing alongside Aamer Aamer outside the court, Mr Asif Siddique said on behalf of the family that he rejected the judge's criticisms and had confidence in Aamer Anwar.Aamer Anwar said that Mohammed Atif Siddique will be making an appeal.

SACC is disappointed at the length of the sentence imposed on Mr Siddique. The activities for which he was convicted were no more than "thought crimes" and have harmed no one. Like may people, we had hoped that this would be reflected in a much lighter sentence.

In passing sentence, the judge said that the new offences created by the terrorism acts were "there to protect the public" and had been "designed by Parliament to stop or reduce the risk of terrorist outrages" before a terrorist plot reaches the stage where a common-law offence has been committed.

SACC has been concerned over Mr Siddique's case ever since the massive police raid on the Siddique family home in April last year. We don't believe that anyone should have to face criminal charges over the sort of activities that Mr Siddique was convicted for.

Speaking before the sentence was announced, Professor David Miller of Strathclyde University - an expert on terrorism, spin and propaganda - said:

"Even the BBC has classed this case as potentially a case of 'thought crime' There is an establishment witchhunt against any form of dissent on British foreign policy. It is important that democrats stand up for freedom of speech"

Referring to comments that Mr Siddique had been guilty of youthful folly, Massoud Shadjareh, Chair of Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), said earler this week:

"The stupidity of neither youth nor age and its reflection in reading material, particularly on-line should not be criminalised. The majority of us may reject certain sentiments but we must beware of utilising the tools of state and particularly the criminal justice system to deal with ideas we find unpalatable. This sets a dangerous precedent."

Richard Haley, Secretary of SACC, commented:

"Anyone who wants to know what is really going on in Iraq has to pick their way through the reports of independent journalists, anecdotes from people with family in Iraq and varied and sometimes problematic web postings from political groups and fighters in Iraq. There is no other way, since the mainstream media largely duck the real issues of the occupation. The Siddique case means that anyone doing this will have to live in fear of prosecution. Especially if they become upset by what they find, and especially if they are Muslim."

John McManus, of the Miscarriages Organisation (MOJO), Scotland, is also worried by the case. He says:

"Comparisons of the Irish situation in the 70s to the attack on the Muslim community today can't be avoided. What is even more worrying under this climate of fear, are the new laws that have been passed, where you can be convicted not for something you did, but for something you might do. By going down this road it allows those in authority to cherry pick who they deem a threat. Today it's the Muslim community, who knows who it will be tomorrow.

SACC is seriously concerned at the criticism directed at Mr Siddique's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, for issuing a statement that appeared to question the fairness of the trial. Speaking on behalf of Aamer Anwar, Mr Woolman QC said that the statement was in fact from Mohammed Atif Siddique and had been issue on his express instructions.

In SACC's view the statement issued by Aamer Anwar is no more than the plain truth.

Richard Haley said

"I, like many others who have followed the case, believe that the evidence relating to Mohammed Atif Siddique's possession of computer files and related materials shows only that he was guilty of doing what millions of young people do every day, looking for answers on the internet. The jury, unfortunately, took a different view. But it needs to be shouted from the rooftops that the view that Mohammed Atif Siddique took of the trial, as set out in the statement from his lawyer, is a reasonable one and raises issues of immense importance for our society."

The possibility that Aamer Anwar may have to face contempt proceedings is deeply worrying. He has earned a reputation as perhaps the most visible and effective lawyer in Scotland for cases with a political flavour, especially when they touch on racism, civil liberties and the wars in the Middle East. He has represented asylum-seekers, victims of racist violence and "suspected terrorists." He helped protestors negotiate a way to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles, and he defended demonstrators arrested during police attempts to shut down the G8 protests.

Anyone who wants a better world - trade unionist, anti-war activist or anti-racism campaigner - knows that one day they might have to confront the security state across a courtroom, and that they will need a courageous lawyer. We should be very worried indeed if the effect of this case is that lawyers become too frightened to do this kind of work properly.