- The Ministry of Justice UKThe Ministry of Justice
- The Crown Prosecution ServiceThe Crown Prosecution Service
- Barry Sheerman, MP for HuddersfieldBarry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield
The Ministry of Justice: Discuss the Conviction of Azhar Ahmed
On Friday 14th September 2012, Azhar Ahmed of West Yorkshire was convicted of sending a "grossly offensive" message via a public electronic communications network contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. On 8th March 2012, Azhar Ahmed had posted a Facebook status objecting to the war in Afghanistan, and stating that "all soldiers should die and go to hell". The background to his case can be found here and an account of trial can be found here.
Azhar Ahmed's conviction is a clear interference with his ECHR Article 10 Rights to freedom of expression, and also flies in the face of a ruling at the High Court, London in the matter of Chambers v DPP, a ruling which was never discussed during Azhar Ahmed's trial and conviction.
Although we may find Azhar Ahmed's views disagreeable, distasteful and even "distressing" (to use Azhar Ahmed's own words given in evidence), they nevertheless are a legitimate expression of a political opinion and as such should not be subject to criminal sanction. If we aspire to an open, just and democratic society, then we cannot allow such a conviction to stand.
With this in mind, we would invite you to join us in signing the following letter expressing our dismay at Azhar Ahmed's criminal conviction.
- The Ministry of Justice
The Ministry of Justice UK
- The Crown Prosecution Service
The Crown Prosecution Service
- Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield
Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield
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.
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.
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