Socialist Worker

Young Asians sentenced to years in jail

Issue No. 1807

JUDGES ARE handing out vicious sentences against young Asians charged as a result of the riots in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford 12 months ago. One Asian youth was jailed for 18 months last week merely for walking around a mainly Asian area in Burnley holding a stick as a gang of white men were trying to invade it.

He was not even accused of using the stick against anyone. He was 17 at the time and had no previous convictions. He was still sent down for a year and a half, despite accepting advice to plead guilty to 'violent disorder'. Another defendant was jailed for two years and three months. A further 26 people from Burnley are due in court on 2 September. They are planning to plead not guilty.

They are basing their defence on the fact that the police in Burnley failed to prevent a mob of whites racially abusing Asians, attacking property and marching into a mainly Asian area. 'We see the sentences that have been handed out so far in Burnley and Bradford as a clear attempt to intimidate anyone from putting up a clear defence,' says Asad Rehman, who is helping to organise a defence campaign in Burnley.

Outrageous sentences in Bradford include: Mohammed Akram, five years for throwing missiles; Mohammed Munir, four years and nine months for throwing two stones; Ashraf Hussein, four years for throwing three stones; Asam Latif, four years and nine months for throwing two stones; Istifar Iqbal, 11 months for picking up but not throwing two stones.

Some 46 people from Bradford have been imprisoned for an average of four and a half years. More cases are pending.

Victims of racist mob

THERE IS a marked difference between the sentences given to the Asians from Bradford and those handed down to white men jailed for their part in the Burnley riot. The average sentence given to the 26 white men in March was two years and two months-less than half what Asians from Bradford were sentenced to. The judge at the trial of the white defendants said the riot began after a group of 20 to 30 white men chanted racist abuse outside the Baltic Fleet pub, where they had been drinking.

Two Asian taxi drivers were attacked before some of the group moved to the White Hart pub in Church Street, where an Asian restaurant's windows were smashed and a taxi business raided. Some of the mob then moved on to Oxford Road, where two Asian shops were burgled and set on fire with the families trapped inside.

All that took place BEFORE any response by Asian youth. They took action only when the police decided to 'escort' the gang of whites to the edge of a mainly Asian area. That's when young Asians came out to defend their homes. Now they are being treated as if they were guilty of starting the trouble.

The same is true in Bradford and Oldham, where the trials of 150 people are about to start. The Nazi British National Party targeted all three areas in the run-up to the general election in June last year. A recent TV documentary showed how known Nazis were at the centre of starting the Oldham riot by attacking Asian homes.

Similar racist attacks have taken place since, especially after the BNP won three council seats in Burnley in this May's local elections.

Gullick: the hanging judge

THE BNP held a 100-strong meeting in Bradford on 6 July last year, the night before fellow Nazis of the National Front threatened to march in the city. When the NF turned up the police did not arrest them, but instead penned in anti-Nazi protesters.

The police then invaded the largely Asian Manningham area of the city, triggering a response by young people. Judges who are now sending down young Asian men in Bradford for years have taken none of this into account. 'I'm not concerned with its origins,' said Judge Stephen Gullick to Shazad Ashraf, the first of many he sentenced. Nor was he concerned with what Shazad Ashraf did on the day.

Gullick said, 'It must be made crystal clear to everyone that on such tumultuous and riotous occasions, each individual who takes an active guilty of an extremely grave offence simply by being in a public place and being engaged in a crime against the peace. It would be wholly unreal, therefore, for me to have regard to the specific acts which you committed.'

Judge Gullick, while not once mentioning the Nazis' provocation that day, said he would sentence Ashraf 'in the context of the overall picture' of what happened on the day.

Ashraf pleaded guilty to throwing stones and a pole. He was jailed for five years for riot. It was, according to the judge, a 'discounted' sentence, and he warned: 'I should make it plain that those who choose to run their not guilty pleas up to the wire until they can see the colour of the jury's eyes should know that the discount will be substantially and visibly reduced from that which they would otherwise have earned for an early guilty plea.'

Campaign launched

A DEFENCE campaign was due to be formally launched on Thursday of this week for those in Bradford who are planning to plead not guilty.

Some 150 people attended a meeting last Sunday to build the defence campaign. Campaigns in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham are getting organised against the courts' attempts to criminalise resistance to racism.

The Burnley campaign can be contacted on 07930 889 895.

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Sat 6 Jul 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1807
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