LONDON: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s former Special Assistant and Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari has won the first round of defamation case against Reham Khan, a broadcaster and former wife of PM Imran Khan.
At a trial of preliminary issues before the London High Court, Mrs Justice Karen Steyn determined the meaning of eight publications complained by Zulfi Bukhari including a YouTube broadcast on Roosevelt Hotel by Reham Khan carrying four allegations and four tweets, retweets. Justice Steyn did not accept Khan’s assessment of the publications’ meaning and accepted Zulfi Bukhari’s submission instead.
The defamation claim started over a YouTube broadcast made by Reham Khan on December 6, 2019 from the UK’s jurisdiction, alleging that Bukhari had personal interest in the sale of Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hotel, owned by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). She further charged that Pakistan’s national assets were being sold to help people like Zulfi Bukhari in an act of “robbery”.
Seeking Chase Level 1 determination, Barrister Claire Overman for Zulfi Bukhari had argued that her client had been defamed at the highest level, as he was declared guilty of corruption and dishonesty while Reham Khan argued that the claim merited Chase Level 3 at the most, Zulfi’s reputation was not harmed and that the publications were in public interest.
In the claim papers filed in July last at the London High Court, the PM’s former adviser had alleged Reham Khan specifically targeted him in reference to the sale of Roosevelt Hotel. The judge heard that in the first publication dated December 6, 2019 via Youtube, the broadcaster made allegations of corruption and favourtism declaring that Imran Khan’s government wanted to favour Zulfi Bukhari through the shady hotel sale. The second publication was a promotion of the same Youtube video on Twitter alleging favouritism for Zulfi, while the third publication was publication of the same YouTube video on Twitter and the fourth was another publication of the promotion of the same video with the allegation of “plunder” of Roosevelt Hotel. The fifth publication was a Retweet by another user condemning “nepotism” in relation to the same video, while the sixth publication was a retweet by Reham by the same Twitter user with the words “shocking claims & revelations” and “Zulfi needs to STOP Lying and NAB needs to investigate his father's REAL money trail.” The seventh publication was a retweet by a Pakistani journalist containing the words “notices sent to journalists & anchors who dared to raise the issue of containment of coronavirus in Pakistan” and “Zulfi Bukhari took refuge behind Pemra by serving notices" to two anchors and the eight publication concerned another retweet in which Zulfi Bukhari was “blamed for the #coronavirus spread in Pakistan” and “putting millions of Pakistani lives at risk”.
In her defence, Khan told the court that her December 6, 2019 Vlog was to raise an alert in the public interest about the government plans about the iconic Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. She said her broadcast was based on the information that the Aviation Ministry had objected to the creation of a task force on Roosevelt. She maintained that she only wanted to save the Roosevelt Hotel and had the right to raise questions about the “performance or buffoonery of the government”.
She told the judge she had not used derogatory language and that her comments were not a personal attack to defame the claimant, and that her objective was achieved and that the Roosevelt sale was stopped.
Judge Karen Steyn found that the natural and ordinary meaning of all eight publications contained a Chase Level 1 imputation: were statements of facts apart from a part of the seventh publication which is an opinion (the rest of the seventh publication is a statement of fact); and that all eight publications were defamatory of Zulfi Bukhari at common law.
In her decision, the judge mentioned the libel victory of Jang and Geo’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman against a private Pakistani broadcaster five years ago and said that the ruling made in the trial of Rahman’s case had set the precedent for Urdu language broadcast cases related to the UK’s jurisdiction.
In a statement, Reham Khan said: “I have no reason to harbour any personal vendetta against Zulfi. We parted on cordial terms. This however does not mean that I will not criticise the PTI government’s performance and plans that make no sense.” Barrister Claire Overman, it’s understood, will be taking further instructions.