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Mohammed Atif Siddique: civil rights queries over ‘terrorist’ conviction

The brother and lawyer of Mohammed Atif Siddique, who was convicted for internet-related terrorist offences last week, spoke to Esther Sassaman


Atif Siddique’s brother, Asif

Atif Siddique’s brother, Asif


The family of Mohammed Atif Siddique – known as Atif – wept as the 21 year old student was found guilty of several counts of terrorism in the high court in Glasgow last week.

Atif could face 15 years in prison when he is sentenced next month. It is the first conviction under the controversial Terrorism Act 2006 which introduced new crimes of “encouragement to terrorism” and “dissemination of terrorist publications”.

Instruction

The jury took nearly nine hours to reach a decision. It found Atif guilty of possessing and distributing a range of terrorist material via websites and providing instructional material about guns and explosives over the internet.

Atif was also convicted for breach of the peace for comments he was alleged to have made to fellow students.

During the case, the prosecution branded Atif a “wannabe suicide bomber”. Defence lawyers argued that Atif was in fact a “foolishly stupid young man”.

After the verdict, Atif’s lawyer Aamer Anwar spoke to reporters outside the court. He said that Atif had been convicted for “doing what millions of young people do every day – looking for answers on the internet.”

He added, “This verdict is a tragedy for justice and freedom of speech and undermines the values that separate us from terrorists.

“Atif Siddique states that he is not a terrorist, is innocent of the charges, and that it is not a crime to be a young Muslim angry at global injustice.

“In the end Atif Siddique did not receive a fair trial and we will be considering an appeal.”

Atif grew up in Alva, a small town in Clackmannshire, Scotland, with his parents, sisters and brothers. In 2003 he went to Glasgow Metropolitan College to study information technology.

Atif’s family say he became increasingly concerned about the suffering of Muslims in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq and downloaded videos and writings in search of answers. He shared this information on websites and in chatrooms and forums.

Atif’s older brother, Asif, told Socialist Worker, “Atif went on the internet to look for answers. Learning more about the war in Iraq or the problems in the Middle East isn’t a crime. The BBC, CNN and Sky News only show one side of the story.

“For a Muslim, suicide is not allowed. It’s totally prohibited. It poses a question – how can these people justify killing themselves and innocents when that’s not what the religion teaches? To answer these questions, you need to get the two sides of the story. That’s what Atif’s done.”

On 5 April 2006, Special Branch officers detained Atif and his uncle Rafiq at Glasgow airport as they were about to fly to Pakistan for a holiday.

The officers seized Atif’s laptop and passport. One week later, police stormed the Siddique family’s home in a dramatic dawn raid with dozens of officers and the media in tow. Atif was taken to Govan police station.

A week after Atif’s arrest, the police arrested Asif and his uncles Rafiq and Niaz.

Asif says that detention was “the most horrifying experience in my life. The food you would not feed to a dog. It was vile. I refused to eat for three days.

“I was interviewed up to five times a day. They would wake you up at two in the morning and say, ‘Are you OK? Do you need anything?’ Three hours later they’d come back, clanging the doors, making as much noise as possible to intimidate you.

“I had no sense of time, didn’t know what day it was. By the fifth or sixth day, I was completely broken down. I was in a bubble myself.”

Charged

Asif and his uncles were released after a week. On 28 April 2006, Atif was charged with terrorism and refused bail.

Asif believes that public prejudice about Islam has played a huge role in terms of people’s perceptions of the case. “The media has painted a picture of Islam that is not so,” he says.

Civil liberties and anti-war campaigners agree. “The case took place in the context of a climate of virulent Islamophobia,” Nicola Fisher, chair of Glasgow Stop the War Coalition, told Socialist Worker.

“This climate has been inflamed by New Labour since 2001. In the 1970s, this type of racism led to travesties of justice against the Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven and Guildford Four.”

Immediately after the verdict, anonymous sources from the security services leaked a story that Siddique “may have been planning an attack in Canada”.

These accusations were not presented in court. A spokesperson for Central Scotland police told the Scotsman newspaper there was “no evidence that Siddique was involved in an actual terrorist plot”.

The case has raised questions about who has the right to view potentially incriminating materials on the internet.

Prosecution witness Evan Kohlmann’s own website, globalterroralert.com, hosts a collection of terrorist recruitment videos which are offered to the media for broadcast.

Kohlmann’s employer, the US-based Nine Eleven Finding Answers (NEFA) foundation, carries interviews with Taliban commanders on its website.

Aamer Anwar told Socialist Worker, “If you are FBI and CIA consultant Evan Kohlmann, it’s OK to do these things, but woe betide you if you happen to be a young Muslim male.”

Mohammed Azad, chair of the Central Scotland Islamic centre, says that links between police and the Muslim community have been “battered” by the case. He has written to the police authorities to raise questions about the treatment of the Siddique family.

The family have lived and worked in Alva for 30 years, and locals have mostly been supportive. However, in June the shop they run was vandalised twice.

Younger siblings Kashif, 14, and Ayisha, 15, are dealing with bullying at school. Asif says their friends are supportive, but some other students call them “terrorist, suicide bomber, Bin Laden”.

Asif himself fears to think of the future. “I’m taking every day as it comes,” he says. “I’ve lived all my life in this country and I’ve lost faith in the police, I’ve lost faith in the legal system, I’ve lost faith in justice.”


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Tue 25 Sep 2007, 18:41 BST
Issue No. 2070
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