Fri, Feb 15, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Appeal court tosses out British youths' terrorism sentences

AGENCIES , LONDON

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.

The five men, who are between ages 20 and 22, walked free from the Court of Appeal after the judges said evidence failed to support the prosecutors' case that the men planned to use the material "to incite the commission of terrorist acts."

"I'm very happy, happy to be out ... I won my freedom back," said one of the men, Akbar Butt, 21.

Bradford University students Butt, Awaab Iqbal, Aitzaz Zafar and Usman Ahmed Malik, together with London high school student Mohammed Irfan Raja, were sentenced last July to between two and three years for possessing articles for terrorist purposes.

Prosecutors said police who searched the men's computers found a US military guide giving instructions on how to make explosive devices and a suicide bombing manual, as well as chatroom conversations that encouraged terrorism.

The men denied the charges and insisted they were simply researching Islam.

The Court of Appeal panel led by Lord Chief Justice Nicholas Phillips said the jury should have been told that the men would only be guilty of a crime if it were proven that the material was intended to incite terrorist acts.

"We doubt whether the evidence supported such a case," Phillips wrote.

The men were arrested after Raja, then 18, ran away from home in February 2006, leaving a note for his parents saying he was going to fight abroad. He returned home three days later, and his parents took him to the police.

Raja said he was never serious and had written to the letter to frighten his parents because he was unhappy at home.

Defense lawyers said the Court of Appeal ruling made it clear that possession of extremist materials was not a crime, and could have an impact on other cases.

Zafar's lawyer, Imran Khan, said his client was ecstatic.

"He says it is surreal and he cannot see why he has spent the last two years in prison for looking at material which he had no intention of using for terrorism," Khan said.

The Islamic Human Rights Commision (IHRC) welcomed the ruling and said it had been wrong to penalize 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.

The Home Office said it would study the judgement.

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