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"Terrorism" conviction quashed - SACC welcomes Appeal Court ruling

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
10am Wednesday 10 February

"Terrorism" conviction quashed - civil liberties group welcomes Appeal Court ruling

Appeal Court decision is a "breath of fresh air" for British Muslims
Law Society vindicates Siddique's solicitor, Aamer Anwar

Mohammed Atif SiddiqueCivil liberties group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) welcomes Tuesday's decision by the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh to quash Mohammed Atif Siddique's conviction under the controversial Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000, and to allow him to walk from the court a free man. We share the relief felt by Atif and his family that his long ordeal is finally over. Mohammed Atif Siddique isn't a terrorist and he should never have been charged with terrorism.

But this case has always been about much more than one young man. Tuesday's decision was a victory for freedom of expression and justice. Mohammed Atif Siddique was convicted in 2007 as a result of possessing documents, videos and other material that he had downloaded from the internet. The decision to overturn his conviction should be a breath of fresh air for Muslims throughout the UK who have come to believe that, for them, freedom of expression has been canceled.

Mohammed Atif Siddique's case was political from start to finish. Most criminal cases take an obvious and identifiable crime as their starting point, then concern themselves with determining whether or not the accused carried out the crime. This case was quite different. There was no obvious crime and there was little dispute about the central facts relating to Siddique's actions. The court was instead invited to consider the political significance of these actions and to decide whether or not they amounted to a crime. The trial judge was unable, as it turned out, to provide the jury with guidance that could stand up to examination by the Appeal Court. All this is an indictment of Britain's wide-ranging, vague and ill-drafted terrorism laws.

Siddique's legal team and the Advocate Depute agreed during the appeal proceedings that Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is "draconian." That should be reason enough for the rest of us to demand that it be scrapped.

Outside the courtThe Section 57 conviction quashed by the appeal court was the main offence for which Mohammed Atif Siddique was convicted and accounted for 6 years of his 8-year sentence. His convictions on two other "terrorism" charges have been allowed to stand. But convictions under unjust terrorism laws don't make him a terrorist.

These two offences related to a website that Siddique ran. The website carried links to documents that were said to provide "a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or the provision of assistance in the commission or preparation of such acts" contrary to Section 2(1) of the Terrorism Act 2006", and to documents said to provide "instructions on how to operate various weaponry and to make explosives" contrary to Section 54 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Section (1) of the Terrorism Act 2006, prohibiting the "encouragement" of terrorism, is one of the most controversial pieces of legislation ever passed by the British Parliament. Fears that it would place undue restrictions on freedom of expression led to a game of parliamentary ping-pong between the House of Lords and the House of Commons that only ended when the Lords backed down in March 2006. After police stopped Mohammed Atif Siddique at Glasgow airport on 5 April 2006 they delayed his arrest until 13 April, the day that the new law came into force. In doing so they demonstrated their determination to find something with which to charge him, and also their doubts as to whether any other charges were likely to be successful.

The Appeal Court was not asked specifically to consider Mohammed Atif Siddique's conviction under the Terrorism Act 2006 and did not do so. His conviction therefore stands. If this controversial law remains on the statute books it is likely to lead to many more people being wrongly branded as "terrorists."

The remaining "terrorism" offence for which Siddique was convicted related to the publication on his website of links to documents said to provide weapons training. The Appeal Court declined to quash this conviction, saying that arguments about it were "not focused in any ground of appeal." SACC would have preferred the appeal court judges to have taken the view that the confusion in the trial judge's directions with regard to evidence purporting to show Siddique's intentions undermined this conviction in a way that paralleled its effect on the Section 57 conviction quashed by the appeal court.

In addition to these two "terrorism" offences, Siddique was also convicted for breach of the peace as a result of intemperate remarks made to fellow students at Glasgow Metropolitan College and for showing disturbing images to the students. This conviction also stands. But when Siddique was sentenced in 2007 the trial judge, Lord Carloway, described the breach of the peace charge as "essentially evidential in nature and bound up with charge (1)." Charge (1) was the charge leading to Siddique's conviction, now quashed, under Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000. By describing the breach of the peace charge as "evidential" Lord Carloway appears to have acknowledged that it was mainly a device to allow the Crown to place before the court additional evidence that could have a bearing on the main terrorism charge. It seems unlikely that the breach of the peace charge would have come to court in any other circumstances.

Aamer Anwar In a important footnote to the Siddique case, Siddique's solicitor Aamar Anwar revealed after Tuesday's appeal court hearing that the Law Society of Scotland had decided to take no action against him following an investigation triggered by critical comments made by the High Court at the same time as it cleared Anwar of contempt of court charges brought as a result of statements he made after Siddique's conviction in September 2007. The Law Society decision was taken on 28 May 2009, but Aamer Anwar was unable to release the information until yesterday as proceedings were still live against Mohammed Atif Siddique. SACC welcomes this news. Solicitors, like the rest of us, are entitled to freedom of expression. But their freedom of expression is of more than ordinary importance. It is one of the keys to our freedom, too.

Aamer Anwar says: "an independent defence able to speak, without fear of recrimination is essential for freedom and justice." We agree.

SACC will continue to campaign for the repeal of all Britain's terrorism laws. In the meantime, we hope that the Siddique family will be left to get on with their lives. The quiet, unfaltering integrity of their support for Atif has won the respect of everyone who has had the good fortune to meet them.

Photographs © Julia Davidson
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Notes for Editors

Judgement of the Appeal Court

The full judgement of the Court of Appeal (given on 29 January 2010), saying that the court was "minded" to quash Siddique's conviction can be found here. The decision to quash the conviction was finally taken at a brief hearing on Tuesday 9 Febrary, after Crown lawyers said that they would not seek a re-trial.

Contempt of Court and Law Society Investigation

From a statement provided by Aamer Anwar & Co

Mohammed Atif Siddique was described as Scotland's first 'Islamist Terrorist'. Charges of Contempt of Court were also brought against Mr Siddique's lawyer Aamer Anwar for a statement made after the verdict making legal history, as the first solicitor this had happened to in the UK.

At the end of the Trial, Mr Anwar stated on behalf of Mr Siddique that "he was guilty only of doing what millions of young people do every day, looking for answers on the internet. This verdict is a tragedy for justice and freedom of speech and undermines the values that separates us from the terrorists. Atif Siddique states that he is not a terrorist and is innocent of the charges and it is not a crime to be a young Muslim angry at global injustice. In the end Atif Siddique did not receive a fair trial and we will be considering an appeal."

Anwar was ultimately cleared of Contempt by the High Court in July 2008, but was then investigated by the Law Society of Scotland after the High Court ruled that he had made statements which were found to be inaccurate, misleading and falling short of the standards of conduct to be expected of the solicitor in his role as officer of the court.

However copies of extracts of transcripts of the sentencing diet, D.Findlays speech to the jury, the trial Judges charge to the jury as well as significant transcripts of parts of the evidence and proceedings were handed to the Law Society as part of submissions.

The majority view following consideration of the detailed evidence was that paragraph 1 of the press statement read in context clearly reflected the defence which has beenmaintained throughout even the sentencing diet, and for that reason could not be regarded as untrue and that paragraphs 3 and 4 accurately reflected the case which was put to the jury and the defence view of the evidence and could not therefore be regarded as misleading.

The Professional Conduct Committee having considered the evidence in detail and on taking a vote on the 28th May 2009, by 10 votes to 2 determined to take no action.

This information was not released until today due to the proceedings being live against Mr Siddique.

In response Mr Anwar states:

"As a defence lawyer I never set out to win a popularity contest but I was taught a defence lawyer's duty is to fight fearlessly on behalf of his clients, no matter what crimes they are charged with. An independent defence able to speak, without fear of recrimination is essential for freedom and justice. I welcome the determination by the Law Society."