LONDON: A judge has set aside and thrown out a defamation case brought by a nationalist activist Shah Muhammad against Geo News, Daily Jang, The News International, and this correspondent – ordering him to pay the defendants’ legal costs of around £20,000.
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 Geo News cameraman Naseer Ahmed were assaulted during the protest which was held soon after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the removal of President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
Muhammad, who described himself as a human rights activist and journalist, had claimed that he was defamed in the report because he was named as 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 “The 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 on The News, Jang, and Geo News’ websites didn’t refer to Muhammad at all. The report mentioned a “Shah Mahmud Khan” who was not the claimant Muhammad.
Shah Mahmud Khan raised no issue about the report but Muhammad claimed to the court that some friends also call him Shah Mahmud Khan therefore he was defamed. The reporter told the court that this was a false claim and had no foundation in truth.
At the hearing before the London High Court, the defendants’ lawyers successfully argued that Muhammad’s claim form be set aside and the case not proceed 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 Muhammad must pay full legal costs of around £20,000, inclusive of VAT.
While delivering the judgement, the judge told 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.
Muhammad sought the right to appeal but the judge refused permission. Muhammad represented himself in 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 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.
Muhammad has worked for Pashtun nationalist and human rights groups including Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) but none of these groups had anything to do with this defamation claim.