Pakistani cleric can stay in Britain

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The Independent Online
A PAKISTANI cleric accused of recruiting young British Muslims to wage war in the Kashmir won his appeal against deportation yesterday.

Jack Straw had ordered Shafiq ur Rehman, 28, to leave the country in December last year. The Home Secretary said the cleric was connected to an Islamic group linked to a mujahedin guerrilla force waging a holy war in the northern Indian territory - the scene of recent clashes between the Indian army and Pakistani-backed rebels.

Lawyers acting for Mr Rehman, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, had claimed he was simply being punished for rejecting an attempt by MI5 to recruit him as an agent.

Mr Rehman, who has two children, was the first person to have his case considered by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which adjudicates on deportations ordered on national security grounds. The case, heard by High Court Judge Sir Humphrey Potts, had been seen as a landmark case by immigration experts.

In a judgment yesterday, the commission rejected Mr Straw's decision. The Government had not shown that Mr Rehman had recruited British Muslims to undergo military training for the Islamic extremist group MDI, linked to Lashkar Tayyaba, a Kashmiri guerrilla group involved in insurrections close to the Pakistani border, the commission said. Nor had it shown that Mr Rehman had knowingly engaged in fund-raising or sponsorship for training camps, as alleged.

The commissioners accepted that Mr Rehman had helped to provide sponsorship and information for people going to Pakistan for training that might have included militant or extremist activities, but they ruled that the Government had not proved Mr Rehman knew what sort of training might be undertaken. They ruled that someone could only have said to have gone against national security "if he engages in, promotes, or encourages violent activities which are targeted at the United Kingdom, its system of government or its people". They decided Mr Rehman had not done this.

The commissioners also rejected allegations made by Mr Rehman's lawyer, that the Government was seeking to deport his client as a favour to the Indian government.

Last night, Mr Rehman said he was "very happy" with the ruling. "Now I believe that there is justice after all," he said.

His barrister, Sibghat Kadri QC, said: "I am pleased on behalf of the Muslim community here whose faith in British justice was badly shaken by the revelation that the security services had been trying to recruit agents." He demanded that Mr Straw explain in the House of Commons why MI5 had been attempting to recruit agents from the ranks of the Muslim clergy. He said: "[He] must explain whether it is an official policy of the British government to use mosques to recruit clerics and if clerics refuse then they go. That sort of thing happens in countries like the Soviet Union not the places like England which has religious freedom."

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the Muslim parliament, said: "The case has been vindicated and this showed that Muslims are hard-working, law-abiding people like any other people in the UK."