Altaf Hussain, the founder of one of Pakistan’s biggest and most controversial political parties, the MQM, has been charged with a terrorism offence in the UK.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed that the 66-year-old, who lives in north London, had been charged in connection with a speech he made to supporters in Pakistan in August 2016.
In the speech he strongly criticised Pakistan and accused it of being “the epicentre of terrorism for the entire world.” He then allegedly urged his supporters to commit acts of violence.
Violence erupted after the speech when MQM activists and police clashed in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city.
Hussain appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on October 10 and was released on bail to appear at the Old Bailey on November 1.
He was previously arrested on June 11 on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting offences contrary to Section 44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007. He was released on bail and subsequently charged.
Mr Hussain, who requested asylum in the 1990s and later gained UK citizenship, pleaded not guilty.
A statement from the Metropolitan Police said: “On 22 August 2016 (Hussain) published a speech to crowds gathered in Karachi, Pakistan, which was likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom they were published as a direct or indirect encouragement to them to the commission, prepare or instigate of acts of terrorism.”
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has dominated politics in Karachi for three decades because of its support in working class neighbourhoods of Urdu-speaking Muhajirs, descendants of Muslims who migrated from India when Pakistan was created in 1947.
Altaf Hussain left Pakistan in 1992 after an arrest warrant was issued in a murder case and the army said it had busted “torture cells” used by MQM activists to punish opponents.
From his base in London, Mr Hussain would address supporters of his MQM party via telephone. His messages would be relayed to crowds by loudspeaker.
The Pakistani authorities have repeatedly demanded that the British take action against him – but his supporters have always maintained his innocence.