Thursday July 25, 2024

UK judge throws out defamation case against Geo/Jang, reporter with £20,000 order

By Murtaza Ali Shah
April 13, 2023
A file photo of Londons High Court of Justice. — AFP
A file photo of London's High Court of Justice. — AFP

LONDON: A judge has set aside and thrown out a defamation case brought by a nationalist activist Shah Muhammad against Geo TV, Jang, The News International and this correspondent, ordering Shah Muhammad to pay the defendants legal costs of around £20,000.

Shah Muhammad initiated the futile claim over a report by this correspondent about a protest by Afghan protesters outside the Pakistan High Commission in London in May 2021.

Hundreds of protesters had taken part in the protest, which had spiralled out of control with some individuals turning violent, pelting stones and throwing water bottles at the Pakistan High Commission building.

In the process, this reporter and the Geo News cameraman Naseer Ahmed were assaulted during the protest, which was held soon after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and removal of President Ghani’s government.

Shah Muhammad, who described himself as a human rights activist and journalist, had claimed that he was defamed in the report because he was named one of the alleged organisers of the protest.

In addition, he alleged that the words in the report meant by way of innuendo that he was a terrorist and tried to rely on the definition of Enemy Agent in accordance with Pakistan’s Enemy Agents Ordinance 1943, and terrorism in accordance with Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act 1967 and the UK Terrorism Act 2000.

In reality, the report published in The News, Jang and Geo’s websites didn’t refer to Shah Muhammad at all. The report had mentioned a “Shah Mahmud Khan” who was not the claimant Shah Muhammad. Shah Mahmud Khan raised no issue about the report but Shah Muhammad claimed to the court that some friends also call him Shah Muhmud Khan, therefore, he was defamed. The reporter told the court that this was a false claim and had no truth.

At the hearing before the London High Court, the defendants’ lawyers successfully argued that Shah Muhammad’s Claim Form be set aside and the case not be proceeded for various reasons, including relying on section 10 of the Defamation Act 2013. The Judge, Master David Cook, agreed and threw out the claim. The judge ordered that Shah Muhammad must pay full legal costs of around £20,000, inclusive of VAT. While delivering the judgment, the judge told Shah Muhammad that there was a dispute as to whether he was actually named in the article and that he had stretched the meaning of the article to claim he was called a “terrorist” when there was no such allegation in the publications anywhere.

Shah Muhammad sought the right to appeal but the judge refused permission. Shah Muhammad represented himself at court but he had legal help available. The judge was critical of the manner in which he dealt with the claim.

The judge was also not convinced that Shah Muhammad tried to rely on the case of Geo and Jang Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman against ARY Network Limited. In that case, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman had won a major defamation case against ARY Network Limited (which subsequently appointed a liquidator and was dissolved) and been awarded one of the highest compensatory awards granted by the English courts.

Shah Muhammad has worked for Pashtun nationalist and human rights groups, including Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and Pakhtoonkwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) but none of these groups had anything to do with this defamation claim.