A man has been convicted of possessing prohibited images of children thanks solely to his large collection of manga and animé cartoons. Robul Hoque, who was convicted at Teesside Crown Court after pleading guilty to ten counts of the charge, is believed to be the first British man to have been convicted on the basis of cartoon images alone.
“These are not what would be termed as paedophilic images. These are cartoons,” his barrister Richard Bennett told the court, local paper The Gazette has reported. “This case should serve as a warning to every Manga and Anime fan to be careful. It seems there are many thousands of people in this country, if they are less then careful, who may find themselves in that position too,” he said.
Judge Tony Briggs handed Hoque a nine-month prison sentence suspended for two years. He said in his summary that anything which could encourage child abuse, including drawings, artistic impressions or even word of mouth should be “actively discouraged.”
Yet in references to the images, Mr Bennett said “It’s clear that that material is available on a legitimate website in this country. There’s no indication at all on the web page that these would fall foul of any legislation in a particular country.”
Police found the images in question when they seized Mr Hoque’s computer on the 13 June 2012. They found 288 still and 99 moving images, none of which were of real people. However, they were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms, others exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity.
The prosecutor Harry Hadfield told the court: “The expert was able to see that the defendant had been actively searching for this material on the internet.”
Mr Hoque denied 20 charges of possessing prohibited images of children and was due to stand trial this week, but relented and pled guilty to ten specimen charges, with the remaining ten left to lie on the court file. He also denied a separate charge of failing to notify the police of alternative online usernames, but was cleared on that count as prosecutors were unable to offer any evidence of the alleged crime.
A former office worker who currently lives with and cares for his elderly mother, Mr Hoque had been spoken of very highly by others in his Middlesborough community, including some who he has helped in the past. Yet over the last two years, with the charges hanging over him, he has been subjected to physical attacks in the streets.
In his summary, Judge Tony Briggs told the court that the pictures were manufactured, stylised, and “repulsive” to varying degrees.
“They are clearly all images designed to make people think they are of children. They are fictitious images in the sense that in no part of them does any real person appear.
“It is important to emphasise that there were no actual children or perpetrators involved.
“I have to tell you that if there had been, an immediate prison sentence measured in years might have been appropriate.
“You are an intelligent man. You certainly should have been aware of the risk of indulging in accessing this material, and you acknowledge your foolishness and guilt.”
He added: “This is material that clearly society and the public can well do without. Its danger is that it obviously portrays sexual activity with children, and the more it’s portrayed, the more the ill-disposed may think it’s acceptable.”
This is the second time that Mr Hoque has been used as a test case over possession of cartoon images. Six years ago he was prosecuted owning and creating “Tomb Raider style” images of fictional children which were so realistic that the jury convicted him on six counts of making “indecent pseudo-photographs” of children; charges he denied. He was handed a community sentence and made to complete sex offender treatment.
The judge in that case told him that in making the images he had “crossed the line as to what is illegal” as the pictures could be “a door into a very murky and distasteful world”. At the time he owned hundreds of Manga style pictures, but these were not made illegal until 2010.
Mr Bennett said: “On two occasions now he’s been a test case. This is a test case because he’s the only person as far as I’m aware who has appeared for possession singly of these sorts of images.”
The case has already drawn criticism and ridicule from defenders of freedom. Leonore Skenazy, commenting on the website reason.com wrote: “If owning or admiring the mere drawn image of something illegal is grounds for sentencing, wouldn’t we have to sentence anyone who goes to the Louvre and parks himself in front of Ingres’ Odalisque? That there’s a concubine and bigamy is against the law. Move on to the Mona Lisa or you’re under arrest!
“More immediately: What if you yourself bought a T-shirt with a big pot leaf on it? Isn’t that like drug possession, or at least fantasizing about drug possession? Wear that outside of Colorado and maybe you should expect a knock on the door.
“And while we’re at it, what would Hoque’s judge, Tony Briggs, suggest we do about all those people–most still in grammar school–who own toy dragons? Aren’t dragons illegal pets–or at least, wouldn’t they be, if they existed? It doesn’t matter that they’re not real, right? Reality seems to be just a trifling detail. So wouldn’t the kid with a stuffed Puff be guilty of owning (or wanting to own) a dangerous (if non-existent) beast with the power to both toast and eat people?
“If you want to fill the jails, just arrest anyone who has ever had a sexual fantasy that involved something other than one man, one woman, a notarized letter of consent (just to be safe) and a condom (ditto).”