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Hamza jailed without using new terror laws

17 February 2006

The necessity of new laws to stop extremists inciting terrorist acts have been questioned this week following the jailing of Muslim cleric Abu Hamza for seven years.

The controversial 47-year-old preacher, as famous for his hook and eye-patch as his anti-Semitic sermons, was found guilty of six counts of soliciting murder, three counts of threatening or abusive behaviour with intent to stir up racial hatred, one count of possession of threatening or abusive recording with intent to stir up racial hatred and one count of possessing a document containing information deemed useful to a person preparing an act of terrorism. However, none of the charges were brought under new anti-terrorist legislation introduced after 9/11, or would have increased in severity under new legislation currently working its way through the parliamentary process.

At the end of last month, proposals in the Terrorism Bill to outlaw the ‘glorification of terrorism’ suffered a defeat in the Lords and, last week, the Commons voted against an offence of ‘criticising’ religion in the Religious Hatred Bill. Despite government protestations that these laws are necessary, Hamza was successfully prosecuted under a mixture of the Public Order Act 1986, Terrorism Act 2000 and, primarily, the Offences Against the Person Act, which dates back to 1861.

Following Hamza’s conviction, director of Public Prosecutions, Ken McDonald QC, said: “Abu Hamza was prosecuted because it was clear to us that his sermons were designed to solicit murder and incite racial hatred. When we look at cases like this we obviously bear in mind that people have a right to free speech. The right to express views that others might find offensive is an important aspect of an open and democratic society. But encouraging murder and inciting hatred against others on grounds of race are not.

“When we reviewed Abu Hamza’s sermons, we were satisfied that he was directly and deliberately stirring up hatred against Jewish people and encouraging murder of those he referred to as non-believers. Not only did he repeatedly advocate that Muslims should kill non-believers, he set out to persuade his listeners that it was part of their religious duty to do so.”

Hamza, who was arrested in October 2004, will now remain in Belmarsh until he is due for parole, which is thought to be in late 2008. Upon his release, he will face the possibility of extradition to the US, where he is wanted in connection with setting up terrorist training camps, kidnap plots and funding terrorist groups.

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