The convictions of five young Muslim men jailed over extremist literature have been quashed by the Appeal Court.
Freeing the men, the Lord Chief Justice said there was no proof of terrorist intent. The lawyer for one said they had been jailed for a “thought crime”.
A jury convicted them in 2007 after hearing the men, of Bradford University and Ilford, London, became obsessed with jihadi websites and literature.
Irfan Raja, Awaab Iqbal, Aitzaz Zafar, Usman Malik and Akbar Butt were jailed for between two and three years each by the Old Bailey for downloading and sharing extremist terrorism-related material, in what was one of the first cases of its kind.
But at the Court of Appeal, Lord Phillips said that while the men had downloaded such material, he doubted if there was evidence this was in relation to planning terrorist acts. He said the prosecution had attempted to use the law for a purpose for which it was not intended.
Lawyers for the men say the decision to restrict how the law on extremist literature works has huge implications for counter terrorism prosecutions.
Critics inside the Muslim community and civil liberty campaigners say section 57 of the 2000 Terrorism Act has been used as a blunt instrument to prosecute young Muslim men where there is no proof of genuine links to terrorism.
The BBC understands there have been three other convictions under this legislation – more cases are expected before the courts this year.
Imran Khan, solicitor for Mr Zafar, said the five had been prosecuted for “thought crime” and that the ruling would have an significant impact.
He told BBC News: “Young Muslim men before this judgement could have been prosecuted simply for simply looking at any material on the basis that it might be connected in some way to terrorist purposes.”
He said section 57 of the 2000 Terrorism Act had been written in such wide terms that “effectively, anybody could have been caught in it” but prosecutors would now have to prove such material was intended for terrorist purposes.