LONDON (Reuters) - Five British Muslim youths jailed for downloading terrorist propaganda were freed on Wednesday after a three-judge panel headed by the country’s most senior judge overturned their convictions.
The five were jailed last July after being found guilty of possessing articles for terrorism purposes. They were found by a jury to have al Qaeda propaganda material on their computers.
On Wednesday the three-judge Court of Appeal panel led by Lord Chief Justice Nicholas Phillips said the jury should have been told the men would only be guilty of a crime if it were proven the material was intended to incite terrorist acts.
“We do not consider that it was made plain to the jury, whether by the prosecution or by the Recorder (judge), that the case that the appellants had to face was that they possessed extremist material for use in the future to incite the commission of terrorist acts,” Phillips wrote.
“We doubt whether the evidence supported such a case.”
Abdul Malik, the father of one of the released men, praised the ruling.
“It is great that the whole nightmare is over,” he told Chanel 4 News. “It is a victory for common sense and justice.”
Asked on the same programme if he supported Jihadism, his son Usman said he declined to discuss his personal views in public.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission also welcomed the ruling and said it had been wrong to penalise people for simply accessing material that was widely available on the Internet.
“Our anti-terror strategy should target and bring to account those who plan criminal acts of terrorism,” IHRC chairman Massoud Shadjareh said in a statement.
“Instead individuals who write poetry, read blogs or download material from the Internet, are being targeted because of their ethnicity or religious affiliation,” he added.
The Home Office (interior ministry) said it would study the judgement.
Four of the five were students at Bradford University in northern England, and one was an east London schoolboy who briefly ran away from home to meet the others after making their acquaintance on the Internet.
The schoolboy, Irfan Raja, had left a note for his parents saying he would meet them in heaven if not in this world. He was jailed along with students Aitzaz Zafar, Usman Malik, Akber Butt and Awaab Iqbal.
Phillips described the instructions to the jury by the trial judge, one of the top criminal judges in the country, Recorder of London Peter Beaumont, as “unsatisfactory”.
Reporting by Peter Graff, editing by Jeremy Lovell and Matthew Jones
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.