Or rather, their conviction for downloading extremist literature from the Internet, which was made a crime under the Terrorism Act 2000.
The convictions of five young Muslim men jailed over extremist literature have been quashed by the Appeal Court.
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”.
A jury convicted the students in 2007 after hearing the men, of Bradford and Ilford, east London, became obsessed with jihadi websites and literature.
The Home Office said it would study the judgement carefully.
This is good news. The Terrorism Act 2000 is a monstrous piece of legislation which makes the PATRIOT ACT look like a shining example of civil liberties protection. It criminalised the possession of extremist literature, among other things, which was widely decried at the time. It in no way proves terroristic intent; to give an example, I have downloaded Industrial Society and Its Future, otherwise known as the Unabomber Manifesto. It’s a rather disturbing piece of writing, although what’s even more frightening is how many internutters post extremely similar diatribes on a daily basis. That aside, I could technically go to prison under the provisions of the Terrorism Act. So too, thinking about it, could anyone who owns a copy of Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto.
This is simply the latest in a series of dubious uses of the Terrorism Act. As I’ve mentioned before, all anti-terrorist legislation is prone to abuse; how could it not be? It gives law enforcement sweeping powers and relaxes the rule of law to the point of being a joke, and that is just an invitation for it to be used for unintended consequences.
The Terrorism Act, for example, has resulted in 1166 arrests, with a conviction rate of 40 in total; this itself is from the grand total of 221 people charged with terrorism-related offences under the Act. This equates to related charges being brought 18% of the time, with 18% of those resulting convictions. To put it another way, less than 3.5% of the people arrested under the Act were convicted of terrorism-related offences.
A conviction rate so low is because of three things: the Act is not fit for purpose; the police are not able to secure evidence of wrongdoing (whether it exists or not); and the Act is being abused.
Numerous acts of abuse are on record: Walter Wolfgang, whom I have mentioned before, and Sally Cameron being the most obvious and well-known, although other victims of the stop and search provisions of the Act; not to mention an 11 year old girl, a cricketer and a busload of elderly anti-war protestors on their way to a peaceful protest. Then there is the case of Samina Malik, convicted under the Act for writing poetry approving of mujahideen and martyrdom, and given a six moth suspended sentence after much outcry in the press.
There are no crimes here, except for the Government’s use of the law as a bludgeon to damage civil liberties. Make no mistake, I do not condone membership of pro-jihadi or pro-mujahideen groups, nor do I approve of lionising terrorism; however, these people have not committed crimes. They have merely held political views which are abhorrent and unpleasant. If that is a crime, then we all need to be thrown in jail — if abhorrent politics are terrorism, we’re all terrorists.