Men found guilty of handing out anti-homosexuality leaflets

 

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The Independent Online

Three Muslim men have been found guilty of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation after distributing a leaflet that said Islam called for anyone caught committing homosexuality to be executed.

Ihjaz Ali, Kabir Ahmed and Razwan Javed handed out the pamphlet, called The Death Penalty?, which showed an image of a mannequin hanging from a noose and quoted Islamic texts that said capital punishment was the only way to rid society of homosexuality.

Today at Derby Crown Court they were convicted by a jury of distributing threatening written material intending to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation in the first prosecution of its kind since legislation came into force in March 2010.

Mehboob Hussain and Umar Javed, who were also charged with the same offence, were found not guilty by the jury.

Judge John Burgess, Honorary Recorder of Derby, adjourned sentencing until February 10 for pre-sentence reports.

During their trial the jury of seven men and five women heard the men, who are all from Derby, admitted distributing the leaflet, but said they were simply quoting and following what their religion teaches about homosexuality and did not intend to threaten anyone.

The leaflet was handed out outside and near the Jamia Mosque in Derby's Rosehill Street and in streets around the local neighbourhood in July 2010.

It was made and used as part of a campaign to publicise a protest in response to the Gay Pride parade due to be held in Derby on July 10 that year.

Taxi driver Ali, of Fairfax Road, who the prosecution said was believed to be the main organiser and supplier of the leaflets, was found guilty of four counts of distribution on July 2 and July 4.

Ahmed, who is married with a nine-month-old daughter and lives in Madeley Street, and Razwan Javed, of Wilfred Street, were convicted of distribution in the area of the mosque on July 2.

But married taxi driver Mehboob Hussain, of Rosehill Street, and Razwan's brother Umar Javed, a married takeaway worker who lives in Whittaker Street, were both cleared of distribution relating to posting the leaflets through the letterboxes of homes on July 4.

The court heard that two other leaflets were also distributed and were relevant in the case to show intent even though charges had not been brought in relation to them.

The leaflets were called Gay - an acronym for God Abhors You - and Turn Or Burn, and prosecutor Bobbie Cheema said they contained excerpts from scriptures in the Koran concerning homosexuality.

A fourth leaflet - Dead Derby - was also found by police but was not distributed.

During the trial the court heard that the Death Penalty? leaflet outlined the history and legalisation of the Buggery Act in England.

The leaflet states that the Islamic verdict on anyone caught committing homosexuality is to apply capital punishment to both parties involved.

It states: "The death sentence is the only way this immoral crime can be erased from corrupting society and act as a deterrent for any other ill person who is remotely inclined in this bent way."

The leaflet continues: "The only dispute amongst the classical authorities was the method employed in carrying out the penal code."

It goes on to offer burning, being flung from a high point such as a mountain or building, or being stoned to death as suitable methods.

At the opening of the two-week trial, Ms Cheema told the jury that the leaflets were not informative or educational but were simply "threatening, offensive, frightening and nasty".

The court heard that Ali told other defendants the leaflets had been checked by police and solicitors for any legal problems or possible criminal offences, but this did not appear to be the case.

The court heard evidence from one gay man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, who received the Turn Or Burn and Death Penalty? leaflets through the door of his home on two occasions.

He said the first leaflet, Turn Or Burn, made him feel "quite horrified" and it was after he received Death Penalty? that he called the police.

He said of the leaflets: "They made me feel terrorised in my own home.

"Sometimes I wondered whether I would be getting a burning rag through the letterbox or if I would be attacked in the street."

He went on: "My fear is that there are some very gullible people that would read literature like this and take it as a green light for permission to commit violence or even murder, if it goes that far."

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) welcomed the guilty verdicts adding that everyone has a right to be protected against hate crimes.

Sue Hemming, head of the CPS special crime and counter terrorism division, said: "A court has heard for the first time from witnesses how they felt, as gay men, when they read a leaflet calling for the death penalty for homosexuals.

"The leaflet which led to this prosecution showed a mannequin hanging from a noose and said gay people were destined to go to hell.

"The jury was told by one witness that he felt he was being targeted and he feared he would 'be burned'.

"Everyone has a right to be protected by the law and we regard homophobic crimes, along with all hate crimes, as particularly serious because they undermine people's right to feel safe."

"While people are entitled to hold extreme opinions which others may find unpleasant and obnoxious, they are not entitled to distribute those opinions in a threatening manner intending to stir up hatred against gay people.

"This case was not about curtailing people's religious views or preventing them from educating others about those views; it was that any such views should be expressed in a lawful manner and not incite others to hatred."

Gay rights group Stonewall welcomed the convictions, which it said "vindicates" its fight against hate crimes.

Chief executive Ben Summerskill said: "We're satisfied to see these extremists convicted for distributing offensive and inflammatory leaflets that suggested gay people should be burnt or stoned to death.

"This case vindicates Stonewall's long fight to secure specific legal protection for gay people against incitement to hatred.

"Witnesses told the court they felt threatened and deeply fearful in their own homes.

"People from all communities will feel safer knowing that the law now makes it harder to stir up hatred and violence against gay people."

Speaking outside court after the hearing, Chief Inspector Sunita Gamblin said: "Derbyshire Constabulary firstly take hate crime very, very seriously and we received complaints from members of the community that also included members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community who felt very intimidated and frightened by these leaflets.

"As a result of that, we did launch a thorough investigation and we also took expert legal advice.

"That legal advice led to the Crown Prosecution Service charging five men with an offence of Section 29 of the Public Order Act.

"Some part of that is about distributing written material which is likely to cause or has an intention of causing hatred.

"This is a landmark case. It's the first time that Derbyshire have ever used this legislation and it's actually the first time nationally that this legislation has been used.

"Following the charges, obviously, we've had two weeks here at Derby Crown Court where a jury have heard all the evidence and information and have found three out of the five defendants guilty.

"We feel that a process has taken place and we are satisfied with the outcome of that process.

"I also know from contact with the community - we've had long- standing, very strong relationships with the community - and the comments that were made within these leaflets is not something that is representative of the wider community, it's certainly not representative of the wider Muslim community.

"I feel content that the court has heard all the information and they've come to some due proper considerations."

She said today's verdicts send a message that "nobody should be scared as a result of their sexual orientation or any other characteristic to that effect".

She said it also sent out a message that Derbyshire Constabulary will not tolerate any form of hate crime and will deal with such crimes in a "robust manner".

She added that such behaviour was not widespread in the community and that the wider Muslim community did not agree with the content of the leaflets.

"They're very pleased that the police have taken positive action and I'm sure they'll be very pleased with the outcome too."

She said that although freedom of expression and freedom of protest were important, when such behaviour breached the law then it became unacceptable.

She added that the maximum sentence for inciting hatred was seven years' imprisonment.

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