24 Jun 2016

'More prosecutions likely' over IS material

7:02 am on 24 June 2016

New Zealand's first prosecutions for owning and distributing violent Islamic State propaganda have prompted a warning from a terrorism expert that there will be more to come.

Imran Patel was yesterday sentenced at Auckland District Court to three years and nine months in prison for distributing IS material, including links to video of a beheading.

In the second case, Niroshan Nawarajan was sentenced to five months home detention. He had visited the US Consulate in Auckland and asked if it was bomb-proof, and was found with an IS execution film.

Alleged ISIL fighters raising their weapons as they stand on a vehicle mounted with the trademark Jihadists' flag at an undisclosed location in Anbar province

A file photo shows alleged IS fighters raising their weapons as they stand on a vehicle mounted with the Islamic State flag in Iraq. Photo: AFP

The cases were prosecuted under objectionable material charges - usually used in relation to material such as video of child abuse or rape.

Waikato University law professor Alexander Gillespie said terrorism legislation did not apply because the men were not explicitly inciting anyone to violence or intending a bomb attack.

He suspected there would be more prosecutions to come.

"People need to be prepared that there'll be more cases like this, that there is more support for radical extremists that we actually care to admit.

"It's just that this is the first time that we've begun to see it quite clearly with regards to this kind of charge. I think where you find one you'll find others."

Federation of Islamic Associations president Hazim Arafeh condemned the men's behaviour but said the videos and other IS material they had were not difficult to find.

"This material is provided on the internet, there's nothing new about it. I sometimes from time to time come across it, unintentionally of course.

"But the problem is the behaviour that someone can develop upon watching this material. This is what could be a bit of concern. But so far I don't think there is a great risk to the New Zealand society."

Mr Arafeh said Muslim clerics visited Imran Patel in prison after he had been charged, to try to convince him what he had been doing was wrong.

"Keep in mind that these two young men have been the first of their kind to be sentenced in possession of such objectionable material and I'm pretty sure this will send a clear message to anyone who is in possession of such material."

Patel had sent text messages with links to a beheading video to 52 people, despite receiving a warning from his internet service provider. The provider then blocked him when he did it again.

Mark Frater from the ISP Association said that was unusual because companies normally filtered only child exploitation material.

"Videos of Isis and beheadings and things is a bit of a different category again. Probably equally objectionable material, you could argue, but not many ISPs would have the capability to block it or even be aware that that content was being requested or links to it were being sent by one of its users."

In sentencing both men yesterday, Judge Collins stressed they had not been charged with terrorism-related activity.

Prof Gillespie said the penalties were relatively light given the maximum was 14 years in prison for distributing offensive material.

"The judge would have been feeling his way through an effectively untested approach over how to deal with such issues.

"The problem is that ... there'll be a lot more of [this kind of material] out there and it's how to deal with it in the future."

Prof Gillespie said countries had threatened in the past to make it an offence just to watch similar videos online, but had found it difficult to enforce.