Altaf Hussain: UK trial begins for Pakistani MQM founder over terror charges

66-year-old charged in relation speech broadcast to supporters in Pakistan in 2016

Founder of Pakistan's MQM party, Altaf Hussain, reacts during an interview at the party's offices in London, Britain October 30, 2016. Picture taken October 30, 2016.  REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

The trial of Pakistani opposition politician Altaf Hussain has begun in a British court over terror charges relating to an alleged 2016 hate speech broadcast to supporters in Karachi.

Proceedings at London’s Old Bailey began on Monday via video link because of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Mr Hussain, the 66-year-old founder of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), requested asylum in the UK in the 1990s and was later granted British citizenship while in exile.

However, he still wields power and influence within the political party that is based principally in Pakistan’s largest city.

Following the politician’s arrest in 2019, police confirmed he had been charged in connection with a speech he made from London to supporters in Pakistan in August 2016.

He appeared in court and was granted bail. Mr Hussain pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Crowds gathered to hear the 2016 address, which was broadcast from loudspeakers in Karachi. Later violence erupted in the city as police clashed with MQM supporters.

The MQM, which was founded by Mr Hussain in the 1980s, has long been the dominant and mobilising political force in Karachi. The party draws support from working-class, Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated to Pakistan during partition with India in 1947.

After arriving in Britain in 1992 for a kidney operation Mr Hussain has run the party from London. However, during his exile the political organisation has suffered a schism, with a rival faction led by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui in Pakistan.

In the aftermath of Mr Hussain’s speech in 2016 the MQM’s elected representatives were forced to distance themselves from the London-based leader.