A leading human rights lawyer has pronounced British justice prejudiced against Muslims. Gareth Peirce said English juries, English prosecutors and English police have proceeded “with complete ignorance of culture or religion” in the past and now “have to be educated about Islam”.
Peirce conducted the appeals against the convictions of both the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, famed defendants in cases relating to Provisional Irish Republican Army bombing campaigns in the 1970s. Both sets of defendants were initially found guilty and imprisoned; both sets of convictions were eventually overturned on appeal.
The Guardian reports Peirce believes the trial of Anis Sardar (pictured above) at Woolwich Crown Court in May is an example of how British justice is prejudiced against Muslim defendants in the same way it was in the past against Irish Catholics accused of terrorist-related crimes.
Sardar, a British black-cab driver reportedly well known in his community for his deep knowledge of Islam, went to study Arabic in Damascus in 1997 before returning to the UK for good in 2007. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life with a minimum of 38 years for the murder of US serviceman and father of two, Sgt Randy Johnson, and life with a minimum 25 years for conspiracy to murder, to run concurrently.
Johnson died in Baghdad in 2007 after his armoured vehicle went off-road and hit an improvised explosive device (IED). The Guardian reports there was no evidence to connect Sardar to the fatal IED, but his fingerprints were on a different type of device found in the same Baghdad suburb.
Sardar admits to picking up a homemade bomb and wrapping it in tape but said neither he nor the bomb-makers were targeting Americans. Iraq was then engulfed in a sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims and Sardar claimed the bomb he touched was one made by Sunni citizens looking to place them in the path of Shia militias. In court the US army accepted it is unlikely Americans were the intended target as when Johnson’s vehicle was hit it was in an area where US soldiers had not been for six months, and it was off road on dirt, not hard roads where armoured vehicles travelled.
Peirce claims “extremely powerful potential witnesses” who would have helped the jury understand the sectarian conflict in Iraq were denied anonymity, leaving them afraid to give evidence for fear of reprisals on families in Iraq.
Peirce believes the case should never have been brought to court, especially a British one, saying:
“We are in a similar place to the IRA trials. If you look at them, it was English juries, English prosecutors and English police proceeding with complete ignorance of culture or religion. If you look at the Birmingham Six, they were seized when they were going to a funeral of an IRA sympathiser, and there was incomprehension that you could have a friend but not be in the IRA yourself, that you might have no money, that you could be Catholic and not be in the IRA, that incomprehension of how a different community worked.
“Now juries have to be educated about Islam. Anis was in Damascus because that’s where you went to study pure Arabic then. He saw the refugees coming in from Iraq and he went with a friend to try to get his family out. He talks about the situation there, how he saw the dead bodies lying in the street, in the canal, he described people coming out to the morgue at night looking for family members. Those IEDs were found in the exact spot where Shia militia came sweeping into the Sunni villages. He said, ‘I was present.’ It was an honest defence, but without context how could a jury in Woolwich grasp it? This all took place during one of the most disturbing periods of world history, in effect the aftermath of years of illegality and ambiguity where even the Iraqi army itself was a militia under another name.
“This trial proceeded amid complete ignorance, and it was utterly wrong to prosecute and wrong to convict him.”
The judge at Sardar’s trial rejected the defence claim that he had only been involved just once in bomb-making, in order to protect the Sunni community from Shia militias. The Express reports Judge Globe saying:
“I am satisfied so as to be sure that your actions were not solely focused on Shia militias. Your focus was either wholly or partly American.
“I am satisfied that at the material time of the offences you had a mindset that made Americans every bit the enemy as Shia militias. Both were in your contemplation at all times.”
The Express also reported that in 2012 officers searching Sardar’s London home as part of a separate investigation found an Arab language bomb-making manual with references to Islam on a computer disc.
Sardar’s family is hoping to launch a legal appeal.
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