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R v Anjem Choudary and Mohammed Rahman

Court Central Criminal Court, Great Britain (UK)
Case number T20150301
Decision title Sentencing remarks of Mr Justice Holroyde
Decision date 6 September 2016
Parties
  • Regina
  • Anjem Choudary
  • Mohammed Mizanur Rahman
Categories Terrorism
Keywords Incitement, Inviting Support, Islamic State, Social Media, Terrorism
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Summary

Anjem Choudary and Mohammed Rahman were both sentenced to 5.5 years’ imprisonment for inviting support for the Islamic State. Both men signed an oath of allegiance to the terrorist group that was published online and had broadcast a series of lectures online in which they denounced democracy and called for Muslims to support the establishment of the caliphate. In sentencing the two defendants, Justice Holroyde emphasised the seriousness of these offences, despite their indirect nature and the lack of violence directly caused, due to “the timing of [the] … communications, [the defendants’] high standing, the size of the audience [addressed] …, and the likelihood that those audiences would include impressionable persons who would be influenced by what” was said (p. 9). Upon release, both Mr. Choudary and Mr. Rahman will be subject to notification requirements for 15 years. 

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Procedural history

Mr. Choudary and Mr. Rahman were arrested on 25 September 2014 and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

They were found guilty by jury verdict on 28 July 2016 of having contravened Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (UK). 

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Legally relevant facts

Mr. Choudary and Mr. Rahman were convicted of “inviting support for the proscribed organisation known as” Islamic State, a crime punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment (p. 1). In particular, the defendants were found to have been signatories to an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State that was published online in 2014, and to have broadcast certain lectures in between August and September 2014 (p. 2). These lectures were entitled: “how Muslims assess the legitimacy of the caliphate” by Mr. Choudary; “duties of the khalifa and conditions for his removal” by Mr. Choudary; “hijrah” by Mr. Rahman; and “offer and acceptance for khalifa” by Mr. Rahman.

Within these lectures, Mr. Choudary stated that Islamic State was a legitimate caliphate, that Muslims were obliged to obey the legitimate caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, and “to fight those who differed from him” (pps. 3-4). Similarly, Mr. Rahman stressed in his lectures the duty of all capable Muslims to go to Dar al Islam or, presumably, the Islamic State, and that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi “was a legitimate caliph to whom true Muslims should give their allegiance” (p. 4). According to Justice Holroyde, the “message was that the caliphate established by [the Islamic State] … was legitimate and that all true Muslims must live under shariah and obey the legitimate caliph” (p. 5). Moreover, the speeches did not condemn the Islamic State’s use of violence nor did they provide any criticism of the group’s actions (p. 5).

However, Justice Holroyde acknowledged that Mr. Rahman and Mr. Choudary neither directly encouraged “any particular violent action” nor did “the evidence … show any specific link between anything … said and acts of violence by one or more of those who listened” (p. 2). 

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Core legal questions

  • Taking into consideration the relevant factors (eg the gravity of the crime, the aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances), what are the appropriate sentences for Anjem Choudary and Mohammed Rahman?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (UK) 

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Court's holding and analysis

It was initially noted that the freedom of expression is not absolute and that the UK Parliament had limited this freedom in relation to supporting proscribed terrorist groups, including the Islamic State (p. 1). This was held to be important as “[a] terrorist organisation which has the support of many will be stronger and more determined than an organisation which has the support of few, even if not every supporter expresses his support in a tangible or practical way” (p. 1).

After setting out the facts that led to Mr. Choudary’s and Mr. Rahman’s convictions, Justice Holroyde set out four reasons why the offences were considered serious:

  • At trial, it was apparent both men were considered leaders in certain sections of the Muslim community and their social media postings were highly influential (p. 5);
  • They intentionally attempted to address a wide range of people via the use of online broadcasts, likely in order to recruit additional supporters for the Islamic State (pp. 5-6);
  • While no evidence was adduced to suggest this occurred, it was foreseeable that the defendants’ actions could lead their followers “to lend active support and use of violence in support” of the Islamic State (p. 6); and
  • The defendants carried out the same illegal activities multiple times within a particularly important time period for the Islamic State, namely shortly after it was proclaimed (pp. 3 and 6-7).  

Importantly, it was found that both men remained dangerous and that they were likely to continue propagating their message of contempt for democracy and about the legitimacy of the Islamic State caliphate (pp. 5 and 7). Accordingly, Justice Holroyde concluded that the pertinent question before him surrounded the length of the sentence of imprisonment (p. 8).

The Judge then considered mitigating circumstances, such as the restrictive bail conditions imposed and the impact their imprisonment would have upon their family (p. 8). The importance of the lack of a link to any identifiable violence was also discussed as a factor in lowering the seriousness of the offence (p. 9).

Finally, Justice Holroyde examined the distinguishing features of the cases of Mohammed Abdul Kahar and others and that of Mohammed Moshin Ameen, ultimately finding that Mr. Choudary’s and Mr. Rahman’s conduct was “more serious than that of Kahar” and “somewhat less serious than … the case of … Ameen” (p. 9). In particular, Justice Holroyde rejected a submission that Mr. Choudary’s and Mr. Rahman’s conduct was less serious than that of Mr. Kahar, who had attempted to “persuade others to join IS and fight for them” through emails with a small number of people (p. 9). In contrast, Justice Holroyde found that the defendants’ conduct in this case had been just as persistent and that they had invited “support from very much larger audiences” (p. 9).

Justice Holroyde sentenced both Mr. Choudary and Mr. Rahman to 5 years and 6 months’ imprisonment, with corresponding notification requirements lasting for 15 years. 

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

Terrorism Act 2000 (UK) 

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Related cases

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Additional materials

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Social media links