CIVIL LIBERTY ISSUES
Istifar Iqbal, 11 months for picking up, but not throwing, two stones; Asam
Latif, four years nine months for lobbing six stones; Mohammed Akram, five
years for hurling various missiles; Mohammed Munir, four years and nine
months for throwing two stones; and Ashraf Hussain, four years for throwing
contrast in Belfast, where the stakes are much higher, a first offence
of riot gets you a fine, a second a heavier fine or a suspended sentence.
According to staff at the Belfast Telegraph, "if the judge was making
an example out of you, you'd probably get 30 days for throwing a petrol
bomb". To date in Bradford, 46 people have been imprisoned for an
average of four and a half years each. What makes their punishments harder
to swallow is that most of the convicted have no history of criminality.
level of charges and harsh sentencing raises the question of whether the
Muslim community is being treated fairly. Lawyers say it is rare for police
to apply the riot charge (which carries a maximum of 10 years' jail),
preferring lesser charges available under the 1986 Public Order Act. Since
each charge of riot must have the prior consent of the director of public
prosecutions, there is every reason to suspect that these prosecutions
are politically driven.
Undoubtedly there were very serious disorders and violent acts as part
of the Bradford riot and some of the perpetrators deserved the severe
punishment upon conviction. However the case of the relatively innocent
is compounded by the home secretary describing them as "maniacs"
who should stop "whining" about their sentences. His public
berating of people exercising their legitimate right to question the severity
of their sentences comes the back of many contentious and ethnically offending
remarks including ones about certain communities being swamped by asylum
seekers and how ethnics should learn to speak English as a first language.