New Delhi: Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Altaf Hussain is now ‘not guilty’ of encouraging terrorism in Karachi from London, the UK authorities said on Tuesday. It has outraged so many Pakistanis that Dawn called it a “surreal disconnect”. In a scathing editorial, it noted: “There is a surreal disconnect between the verdict returned on Tuesday in a London court and the lived reality of the millions who call Karachi home.”
The newspaper added that it is “well known” that one phone call from Hussain had the power to mobilise MQM militants in Karachi who would then subvert commercial activities in the city. The paper also suggested that the jury’s decision could have something to do with the fact that they were told to acknowledge there exists “a different cultural yardstick” between the law in the UK and the law in Pakistan.
Some are accusing UK authorities of being “partial” while others on social media are supporting Hussain with the hashtag #AltafNotGuilty. Additionally, videos of the MQM supremo’s emotional reactions to his acquittal outside the courthouse have been trending. It follows a starkly ‘emotional moment’ of 14 February, when Hussain came to the court for his last hearing with a bouquet of roses and wished reporters a happy Valentine’s Day.
A history of charges
The MQM is a political party in Pakistan founded by Altaf Hussain in 1984 and is now split into two factions. It was largely successful in giving a voice to the immigrant Mohajir community but has a very strong militant wing reporting directly to the self-exiled Hussain.
Hussain was facing two charges before the Kingston Crown Court, related to encouraging terrorism. This was with respect to the two speeches he gave from London to Karachi via telephone on 22 August 2016.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had at the time alleged that these speeches were likely to be understood by members of the public in Karachi “as a direct or indirect encouragement to them to the commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism” and that Hussain was “reckless as to whether they would be so encouraged”. However, following Hussain’s recent acquittal, the CPS said that it “respected” the decision of the Kingston Crown Court.
A spokesperson of the CPS told Geo News that the inquiry into the exiled MQM leader’s case was “complex” and conducted both in the UK and Pakistan.
Hussain has been banned from entering Pakistan over his alleged hate speeches against the State. He has lived in self-imposed exile in London since 1992.
‘Turning a blind eye’
According to the Pakistani media, Hussain’s defence lawyer told the jury that the yardstick of the law in the UK is not the same as that in the Pakistani context. He further asked the jury to consider what qualifies as terrorism as well as the type, design, and purpose of the act.
Meanwhile, freelance columnist Walid Iqbal accused British authorities of “turning a blind eye towards these criminals”. In an op-ed for Pakistan media outlet Daily Times titled ‘New Haven for Money Launderers’, he wrote: “Criminal involvement of Altaf Hussain is a well-known fact, proved through solid evidence against him yet his acquittal puts a question mark on the neutrality and motives of British authorities.”
Mir Mohammad Alikhan, a Pakistani Wall Street-trained investment banker who currently resides in Karachi, joked that Hussain’s acquittal proves he is “still an asset” to the MI6, the UK’s secret intelligence unit.
Altaf Hussain Declared Not Guilty Of Terrorism In England.
Thank you MI6 for making it obvious that he is STILL an asset to you.
— Mir Mohammad Alikhan (@MirMAKOfficial) February 15, 2022
Former diplomat Zafar Hilaly further asked, “When it comes to Altaf Hussain, the Brits are scrupulously partial. He got his Brit citizenship despite two score murder charges, and now he gets off the charge of instigating terrorism to his own gob-smacking surprise. Why? How about for services rendered?”
The hashtag #AltafNotGuilty has managed to gain wide popular support. A video shared by Pakistan-based journalist Tuba Athar Hasnain shows Altaf Hussain promising to treat London reporters who covered his court proceedings with sandwiches and haleem.
Following the MQM ritual, Founder and Leader of MQM, Altaf Hussain has promised to treat London based reporters who have covered his court proceedings regularly with sandwiches and haleem! pic.twitter.com/3jNvJUv3jT
— Tuba Athar Hasnain (@AtharTuba) February 15, 2022
The MQM supremo also received support from other parties following his acquittal. Aamir Liaquat Husain, a lawmaker of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and famous TV personality, said that the Pakistani government should now hold negotiations with Hussain.
In the past, he questioned why the government can hold talks with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) but not the MQM supremo.
Many social media users like Oxford student Agha Salik Ahmed Khan celebrated Hussain’s acquittal, saying that “they don’t care about the biased Lahore High Court’s ban” on his speeches.
Love you Bhai @AltafHussain_90 @OfficialMqm will always be Karachi’s true voice. #AltafHussain #AltafnotGuilty We don’t care about the biased Lahore High Court’s ban on the speeches of Bhai as today Allah granted victory to QeT from Kingston Court, UK. https://t.co/nUFZSGSleM
— Agha Salik Ahmed Khan (@aghasalik) February 15, 2022
In 2015, the Lahore High Court had directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and other authorities to ban the broadcast of images and speeches made by Hussain across all electronic and print media.
Some social media users said that Hussain should file a lawsuit against ARY News in the UK for “defaming him”.
Altaf Hussain should immediately file a lawsuit against ARY in the UK for defaming him by running fake news and for calling him a “RAW agent” & a “traitor”. He should ask them to prove their allegations in the court of justice.#AltafNotGuilty
— AK-47™© (@AK_Forty7) February 15, 2022
In one of his speeches delivered on 22 August 2016, Hussain had reportedly asked his followers to attack the offices of media outlets like Geo, ARY and Samaa for not publishing his pictures, videos, and statements following the Lahore High Court’s orders.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)