The family of a grandfather convicted of attempting to recruit two undercover police officers to fight for the Taliban have spoken of their “torture” as they face the prospect of becoming the first in Britain to have their home seized by the courts under anti-terrorism laws.
Three generations of the Farooqi family, including two children, are living in the four-bedroom house in Longsight, Manchester.
They claim they face being made homeless and left penniless should 56-year-old Munir Farooqi lose his High Court appeal next month against his 2011 conviction for soliciting to murder and disseminating terrorist literature. The case is expected to become a testing ground for human rights with supporters saying the family – who have committed no offence in their own right – are being collectively punished for the actions of another member.
Farooqi's son Harris, 29, a market trader who was acquitted of terrorism charges at the same trial, said eight people were living at the family house which is owned by his mother Zeenat and sister Zulaikha. The property is being targeted because the court found attempts to radicalise vulnerable men and persuade them to take part in jihadi action took place there.
"How can they demonise a whole family? It is sickening. You have to be insane deliberately to make a family go through such torture and to claim they are all terrorists," Harris Farooqi told The Independent.
The family insist their father is innocent and are confident he will win his appeal. They claim the undercover police investigation which saw two officers become regular visitors to the premises was unlawful.
Farooqi Snr was given four life sentences and ordered to serve a minimum of nine years in jail after meeting the two officers at the Manchester market where he ran a religious book stall. Two other men were also convicted.
The Farooqis were served with a notice by the Crown Prosecution Service's Proceeds of Crime Unit following the conclusion of the trial that it intended to make an application for forfeiture of their property under Section 23a of the Terrorism Act. The judge in the case ordered the proceedings to be halted pending the outcome of the appeal. If it is unsuccessful the case to seize the house will begin at the High Court in Manchester within six weeks.
Their solicitor Simon Pook said the Act was being misinterpreted and had the potential to create case law which would be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. "The Farooqi family have the right to respect for their private and family life, their home and their correspondence," he said.
"It is our position that Parliament did not have in mind the forfeiture of family homes. Indeed the introductory notes strongly suggest property to be computers, mobile phones, printers etc," he said.
Mr Pook said it would be up to the court to decide if the application by the police could satisfy the test that it would prevent disorder or crime, protect health, morals or the rights and freedoms of others. "This is a clear human rights issue," he added.
Mrs Farooqi, 49, said the family were devastated by her husband's conviction and were now worried they would be split up if the £200,000 house were seized. She said they also face losing two other properties, which form the basis of a family lettings business, to cover legal costs.
"In Britain we are told we have women's rights and children's rights – but where have our rights gone? This property has never been in my husband's name. We are worried we will be left homeless.
"We have had nothing to do with these alleged crimes. None of us has been charged and Harris has been acquitted. Where is the justice?" she said.
Zulaikha Farooqi, whose two-year-old daughter Rumaysa lives with her and her husband in the house, said the family now found it hard to trust anyone following the undercover investigation. The family said the house was a place where people would meet to discuss religious faith – not a centre for radicalising potential terrorists. "It was this hospitality which has been thrown back in our faces," she said.
Speaking after the verdict, Det Ch Supt Tony Porter, head of the North West Counter Terrorism Unit, said police had been unable to recover a "blueprint, attack plan or endgame" during the 12 months of surveillance.
He added: "However, what we were able to prove was their ideology. These men were involved in an organised attempt in Manchester to recruit men to fight, kill and die in either Afghanistan or Pakistan by persuading them it was their religious duty."
Nearly 20,000 people have signed a petition demanding the action be stopped. A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said the Act allows the court to order forfeiture if the property was in the defendant's possession or control and was used for the purposes of terrorism. "This aspect of the proceedings is on hold pending the outcome of the appeal," he added.