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Tuesday April 23, 2024

UK court rejects Altaf’s plea to quash defamation case against him

Tariq Mir used to be a staunch loyalist of Altaf until leaving him in 2016

By Murtaza Ali Shah
January 23, 2024
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader and founder Altaf Hussain (left) and former MQM Rabita Committee member Tariq Mir. — Photo via author
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader and founder Altaf Hussain (left) and former MQM Rabita Committee member Tariq Mir. — Photo via author

LONDON: United Kingdom High Court judge Justice Chamberlain has refused an application by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader and founder Altaf Hussain to strike out MQM’s former Rabita Committee member Tariq Mir’s defamation case against him and seven other MQM activists.

The judge ruled that the case against Altaf and others, namely Ather Aziz, Hashim Aziz, Moeen Ahmed Khan, Nadeem Pervez Sheikh, Nasir Ali, Suhail Ahmed Khanzada and Yasmeen Novein, would continue to trial and that the MQM founder could not be separated from the case.

Tariq Mir used to be a staunch loyalist of Altaf until leaving him in 2016. He served as MQM chief’s treasury chief and a trustee of the Society for the Unwell and Needy (SUN). He launched his defamation case against the MQM founder and others over press releases published on MQM’s website on 17 and 29th of November 2022 and a demonstration against him on November 27, 2022 outside a hotel in Wembley where Tariq Mir was hosting a SUN charity dinner which was livestreamed on the MQM’s Facebook page.

Altaf Hussain did not attend the demonstration but the MQM workers who gathered and live-streamed the protest called Mir a “dishonest person”, “a thief”, “a fraud” and “a corrupt” person who had allegedly stolen the whole SUN charity from Hussain for his own lavish lifestyle, in disrespect to the martyrs of the MQM.

Mir launched the defamation case claiming that Altaf was responsible for the defamatory statements made against him as he was knowingly involved in and authorised their publication on the MQM website or MQM Facebook page as Hussain was the person in full command and nothing happened in the MQM without his personal approval.

After Mir launched his claim, Altaf applied to the court to strike out Mir’s case against him seeking summary judgement. He also objected to Mir’s application to amend his claim to strengthen the claim against Altaf.

The MQM founder told the court that he was a “figurehead” who does not generally get involved in decision-making within the MQM on a day-to-day basis and that he is not good with technology and does not email or make phone calls and rarely reads the many WhatsApp groups to which he is added. He said in his witness statement that he is not involved in deciding what to post on his social media sites and has no control over it. In support of his case, MQM’s Mustafa Ali told the court that Altaf would have no idea what was on the website, took little interest in it and trusted those running it to publish relevant content. Two other witnesses also told the court that Mir’s case should be struck out because Altaf had no idea about who uploaded the defamatory statements - which were later removed - on MQM’s website and they named Ghufran Hameed as the person who did so, without any authorisation from Altaf.

Mir told the court that during his nearly 20 years association with the MQM in senior roles, he never saw anything being published on MQM’s platforms without Altaf’s approval; that MQM chief gave standing instructions to members responsible for the operation of MQM’s media platforms, which they followed faithfully. They were reprimanded if they did not follow these instructions, Mir told the court.

The turning point in the hearing came when Tariq Mir’s lawyers referred the court to the evidence given by Altaf in support of his case at the MQM London properties case (Altaf Hussain vs Aminul Haque/ MQM Pakistan) at the London High Court. The court was told that the evidence given by Altaf, Ali and Qasim Ali in Mir’s defamation case was contradictory to the evidence given by all of them in the MQM properties case where they had told ICC Judge Jones that the Central Coordination Committee had to obtain Altaf’s approval for all political, policy and organisational decisions and that it was Hussain who always approved documents.

In that case Ali had told the court that “…whenever any statement or letter to the public is being prepared, it is submitted to the CCC who read it and give suggestions to the First Defendant. The First Defendant includes any suggestions he deems appropriate and approves the documents.”

Mir’s lawyers also drew attention to the content of the MQM website which they argued was largely a personal platform and homage to Altaf which included images of MQM founder superimposed with rose petals and hearts.

The judge ruled that Altaf had failed to demonstrate that Mir had no real prospect of success and therefore the case must proceed to a trial to determine the issues. The judge also ruled that he will allow Mir to amend the case which will now proceed to trial against Altaf and seven other defendants.

A London MQM source said: “This judgement is very basic. The real issues will be determined at the trial, for which we are fully prepared. Altaf Hussain had nothing to do with any defamatory statements. The real issue remains how the properties belonging to the martyrs were taken over and how the founder’s trust was broken by so many people who used to claim loyalty.”

Mir was represented by Counsel Claire Overman of Doughty Street Chambers and solicitors Ushrat Sultana and Sadia Qureshi of Stone White Solicitors. Altaf was represented by Counsel Gervase de Wilde of 5RB Chambers and solicitor Adham Harker of Brett Wilson Solicitors.