MP may be tried as traitor
Antony Barnett and Martin Bright, The Observer, UK,
April 27, 2003
George Galloway, the anti-war Labour MP who is suing over allegations he secretly took money from Saddam Hussein, faces the prospect of a criminal prosecution for treachery.
The Observer can reveal that the Director of Public Prosecutions is considering pursuing the Glasgow politician for comments during the Iraq war when he called on British troops not to fight.
In an interview with Abu Dhabi TV during the Iraq conflict, Galloway said: 'The best thing British troops can do is to refuse to obey illegal orders.' Lawyers for service personnel claim his call for soldiers to dis obey what he called 'illegal orders' amount to a breach of the Incitement to Disaffection Act 1934. The maximum penalty is two years in jail.
The relevant part of the Act is Section 1, which states: 'If any person maliciously and advisedly endeavours to seduce any member of His Majesty's forces from his duty or allegiance to His Majesty, he shall be guilty of an offence.' Under the terms of the Act, the word 'maliciously' means wilfully and intentionally.
Galloway dismissed attempts to prosecute him, but said: 'I hope to have chiselled on my gravestone: "He incited them to disaffect."'
The lawyer spearheading the action is Justin Hugheston-Roberts, chairman of Forces Law, a nationwide group of 22 law firms which acts for service personnel and their families.
The case is being handled by Hugheston-Roberts's law firm in Wolverhampton, Rose Williams and Partners.
The last time a prosecution was brought under this law was in 1974, when a protester was charged after distributing leaflets outside Army camps urging soldiers not to accept postings to Northern Ireland.
Galloway's calls for British troops to disobey orders came during the TV interview in which he described Tony Blair and George Bush as 'wolves' for embarking on military action.
When accused of treachery, Galloway said: 'The people who have betrayed this country are those who have sold it to a foreign power and who have been the miserable surrogates of a bigger power for reasons very few people in Britain can understand.'
After Galloway made the comments on Abu Dhabi TV, Hugheston-Roberts wrote to the DPP asking him to prosecute or allow a private prosecution to be brought.
Last week the Crown Prosecution Service wrote to the lawyers requesting more information and details of the comments Galloway made.
Hugheston-Roberts has refused to reveal the identity of his clients, but said they were meeting this week to decide on the best course of action.
Hugheston-Roberts said if the CPS decided not to prosecute but gave consent for a private action, then his clients would be happy to pursue that avenue.
Human rights lawyers said last night it would be an extremely difficult case to pursue. Roger Bingham of the civil rights group Liberty said: 'Galloway's statement is an expression of opinion. We live in a free-speech, democratic society and elect MPs to speak out on national issues.'
Andrew Burgin, of the Stop the War Coalition denounced the move. He said: 'This war was immoral and illegal and should never have been fought. This proposal to prosecute is part of an ever-expanding witch-hunt against George Galloway because he was the most vocal anti-war voice.'
This latest twist comes as The Observer reveals details of a secret trip Galloway made to Morocco for the British-based Saudi dissident Saad al-Fagih, an Islamic fundamentalist who purchased a satellite phone used by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
In February 1996 Galloway flew to Morocco for a secret meeting with the then Crown Prince of Morocco to explore a deal between the Islamic Saudi dissidents in the UK and the Saudi royal family.