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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 12:19 GMT
Abu Hamza 'was wrongly convicted'
Abu Hamza preaching outside Finsbury Park Mosque
Abu Hamza: Falsely prosecuted, say his lawyers
A radical Islamic cleric should be freed because Victorian laws do not apply to foreigners killing foreigners, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Abu Hamza al-Masri is challenging his convictions for soliciting to murder and race-hate crimes. He was jailed for seven years in February.

His lawyers argued legislation used to convict him only applies to those who incite British citizens to kill.

Lawyers for the Crown say incitement law also applies to foreigners.

The Egyptian-born cleric, who is being held at Belmarsh high-security prison, was jailed after being found guilty of 11 of 15 charges, including crimes under the 1861 Offences Against The Person Act.

Guilty of 6 charges of soliciting to murder
Guilty of 3 charges related to "stirring up racial hatred"
Guilty of 1 charge of owning recordings related to "stirring up racial hatred"
Guilty of 1 charge of possessing "terrorist encyclopaedia"
Not guilty of 3 charges of soliciting to murder
Not guilty of 1 charge related to "stirring up racial hatred"

Those offences centred on speeches made by Abu Hamza at a number of mosques between 1997 and 2000.

Prosecutors argued that the cleric acted as a "recruitment sergeant" for terrorist organisations and incited members of the audience to kill Jews and non-Muslims.

But, at the start of the second day of the appeal, lawyers for Abu Hamza argued that the 1861 legislation only covered a British citizen being incited to kill someone abroad - and not foreigners encouraged to murder other foreigners overseas.

Prosecutors had failed to prove British citizens were in Hamza's audience and, as a result, he should not have been found guilty, said his defence team.

'Prejudiced trial'

Earlier in the appeal, Edward Firzgerald QC said his client had been denied a fair trial at the Old Bailey because of a combination of unique circumstances.

It had become "impossible" for Abu Hamza to get a fair hearing because his speeches were being judged amid a media hate campaign, the public actions of ministers, including a decision to strip him of British citizenship, and general tensions following the 9/11 attacks and 2005 London bombings.

Had there been a case against the preacher, argued Mr Fitzgerald, it should have come four years earlier when anti-terrorism officers seized recordings of the sermons, along with an alleged terrorism training manual.

Despite police scrutiny of this material and further MI5 monitoring, Abu Hamza was not charged and the material was returned, said his lawyer.

The appeal continues.


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