A multi signatory open letter on Azhar Ahmed

The following open letter is now available to sign at http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-ministry-of-justice-uk-discuss-the-conviction-of-azhar-ahmed – please sign it.

We the undersigned would like to express our dismay at the guilty finding in the case of Azhar Ahmed which was tried at Huddersfield Magistrate’s Court on 14th September 2012

We do not recognise District Judge Jane Goodwin’s finding that Azhar Ahmed’s Facebook post was “grossly offensive”. Whilst we fully accept that Ahmed’s post may have been disagreeable and even upsetting to some who read it, we are convinced that Ahmed was doing no more than exercising his democratic right to express a political opinion in an “open and just multi-cultural society”. We do not accept the characterisation of his post as grossly offensive such that his words constitute a criminal offence under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

We would direct the reader to the comments of the Lord Chief Justice in reference to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 in his judgement on Chambers v DPP 2012 at the High Court:

The 2003 Act did not create some newly minted interference with the first of President Roosevelt’s essential freedoms – freedom of speech and expression. Satirical, or iconoclastic, or rude comment, the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it should and no doubt will continue at their customary level, quite undiminished by this legislation.

We submit that to apply section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 in the way it has been applied in this judgement would be incompatible with Azhar Ahmed’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights Article 10. To paraphrase John Cooper QC in Chambers v DPP: section 127 as interpreted in the Ahmed judgment of 14th September is incompatible with Article 10, and also the ruling in Chambers v DPP 2012.

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Finally, we would like to express our support of, and fellowship with, anyone who believes that their freedom of expression has been interfered with, or limited by, the court finding Azhar Ahmed guilty at Huddersfield Magistrate’s Court on 14th September 2012.

Sign the letter here.

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* The following para was removed:

Additionally we would note that Azhar Ahmed appears to have been the victim of a far right hate campaign, in that his comments were copied, pasted and redistributed amongst nationalist and/or racist activists. We would point to the witness statements of Mr Samir Ahmed and Craig Oakland which appear to indicate a sustained campaign of harassment which bears all the hallmarks of a far right intimidation exercise. We doubt strongly that Azhar Ahmed’s case would have ever come to court were it not for these activities.

19 thoughts on “A multi signatory open letter on Azhar Ahmed

  1. This letter you have created is beautiful. I wish there were more human beings as wonderful and ethical as you.

  2. I agree. I’d have only two suggestions:

    1) Given the judgment said (in your words) “his message was calculated to cause gross offence to the family, friends and colleagues of those soldiers”, perhaps add something like this: It seems absurd for a message delivered primarily to his Facebook friends – none of whom, presumably, was a friend etc. of the dead – to be characterised as ‘calculated’ to offend the family. Unlike DPP v Collins, he was not deliberately phoning his ‘victims’ to offend them. Even if his profile was on public, it could not have reached the family etc. save by being ‘shared’ by others. Indeed, the only reason it the ‘victims’ did hear it is that the Right and the media deliberately passed it on, and did so calculating it would offend them and thus stir up public disorder/newspaper sales. Following the logic of being ‘calculated’ to offend, then, surely only these people could possibly be guilty of this offence?

    2) This might be a distracting point that should be left out, but you could add that this conviction ironically legitimises the logic of the Muslim rioters around the world presently – that he who offends is responsible for the violence committed by the ‘offended’ – and makes Britain’s claim to stand for free speech here/in the Rushdie affair seem hypocritical or, worse, vulnerable to wane with enough violence. It thus aids the most reactionary elements of both the Right and the Islamic world.

    I would like to sign your letter, though I’m afraid my credentials amount only to being a graduate about to start the GDL.

    • Thanks for this. Point 1 is largely covered by Chambers v DPP. I don’t wish to go into too much detail on that in the letter, save to raise the fact that it wasn’t even referenced in the trial, which immediately points to a mistrial as the relavant authorities were not discussed.

      On point 2, I think we should be wary of being too explicit over the racial and religious overtones of this case. I’m sure the reader can read between the lines and see that these issues are raised, but the central point that Ahmed’s article 10 rights have been interfered with should not be diluted if at all possible.

      That’s my view, for what it is worth!

  3. This is what I posted on Facebook earlier: I do not agree with what Ahmed said. I think he’s an ignorant prick. However, I will defend to the death his right to say it. The problem is this: where do you draw the line? Every time freedom of speech is infringed upon a little more, we’ll have to be more and more careful what we say online and in public etc. One day freedom of speech will be no more at this rate.

    Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides the right to freedom of expression, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”. This right includes the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas.
    Article 10 – Freedom of expression
    1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
    2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

    • Thanks. for your comment. I was thinking earlier that I may add one particular quote from John Cooper QC in Chambers v DPP, in reference to Article 10.

      I shall do so immediately.

  4. I agree in the content of this letter. What is going to happen with it? Is any organisation handling this, for instance with supporting him directly with legal aid and possibility of appeal? Other activities?

    This is so important.

    • The first thing is to gather signatories for the finished draft. We will keep the signatories anonymous in the published version. After that, my view is that the letter complete with its signatories should be sent to Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer, The MP for Huddersfield Barry Sheerman, and anybody else who we think should have any influence in this case.

      As regards Azhar Ahmed himself and any appeal: I have yet to hear whether Ahmed intends to appeal or not. It would take a great deal of courage and fortitute for him to do so in the face of the tabloid press, nationalist thugs and seemingly the law itself set against him. He will also need financial support in order to raise an appeal fund. I would be more than happy to do my bit to assist in any fundraising activities to help Ahmed.

  5. 1) this needs to be sent to his legal team ASAP. They can lodge for appeal on the grounds mentioned.

    2) i’m not 100% convinced that alleging the far right hate campaign isn’t off the point. I’d be inclined to leave the racism card up your sleeve for now. It kind of inferes the judge has far right sympathies/conspiracies – a statement which is likely to alienate the white middle class centre right voters you need on side!

    • Inclined to agree with you on point 2, Matt. My feeling is that it isn’t relevant to the central point that Ahmed’s article 10 rights have been interfered with. I actually included it at somebody else’s request, but my instinct is to leave it out as it distracts and dilutes this central point, as well as creating another barrier for signatories who may otherwise agree with the issues raised in the letter, but feel uncomfortable putting their name to that particular assertion.

      • I agree that the reference to Far Right influence is out of place. It’s a serious issue in its own right, but it’s not the issue here, and some people will associate any suggestion of Far Right machinations with tinfoil hats. The suggestion that the case might not have come to court but for certain activities implies a lack of impartiality in the justice system, which may well be fair but is unnecessarily provocative here. Everyone should be able to agree with this letter, including the most conservative member of the judiciary. So I would say leave it out.

        The quotation from the Lord Chief in Chambers is a brilliant move and it’s entirely right that this should be at the heart of the letter. I would favour saying less rather than more around it, because it suffices in itself. The most senior judge in the land has specifically interpreted this law such that

        “the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it should and no doubt will continue at their customary level, quite undiminished”

        - but that expression obviously cannot continue undiminished if it results in prosecution. Ahmed’s conviction directly defies (or ignores?) this important precedent and that is the simple reason in law why it cannot stand.

  6. Maybe the last paragraph is too specific – maybe something along MLK’s “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

    So, imho:

    “We would like to express our support of, and fellowship with, anyone who’s freedom of expression has been interfered with, or limited by, the court finding Azhar Ahmed guilty.”

    • Unfortunately the wording of the letter is too long for an e-petition. Additionally, I don’t we’re ready for parliamentary debate until we know te position on any possible appeal.