Sunday 20 July 2008

Muslim organization threatens legal action against Harry's Place blog

This is an article by Jonny Paul in TJP:

"The head of a leading UK Muslim organization is threatening legal action against a popular blog for posting a statement made by him in which he allegedly used the phrase "evil Jew".

The blog Harry's Place said that in an address made in Arabic to Al-Jazeera at last month's Salute to Israel parade in London's Trafalgar Square, Mohammed Sawalha, president of the British Muslim Initiative (BMI) and founder of the annual Islam Expo, a four-day event enhancing understanding of Islam in Britain, had said: "We, the Arab and Islamic community, gather here today to express our resentment at the celebrations by the Jewish community and the [evil Jew/Jewish evil] in Britain." The speech was reported on Harry's Place, which claimed Al-Jazeera had changed the controversial word appearing in its original report, translated as "evil or "baneful" by the blog, to "lobby" some time later.

Harry's Place said that Sawalha was a key figure in the Muslim Brotherhood and the BBC identifies him as a senior Hamas activist. He is also a trustee of the North London Mosque, formerly the controversial Finsbury Park Mosque - frequented by Al-Qaeda operatives including "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui.

Denying the allegation, BMI issued a press release which it posed in the comments section of the blog entry, and Al-Jazeera reporter Medyan Dairieh who also appears in the thread, insisted that Sawalha had spoken of the "Jewish lobby".

Describing Sawalha as a promoter of "community relations and cultural dialogue" and objecting to him being demonized as a "Jew-hater", the BMI accused Harry's Place of "deliberately skewing the word "lobby".

In response, Harry's Place said: "I do not know Mr Sawalha. However, if he is a senior Hamas activist, and a supporter of that organization, I cannot imagine he has anything positive to contribute to 'community relations.' Moreover, it is very unlikely that any British court would regard it as defamatory to describe a Hamas activist as a racist. Hamas is a proudly racist and genocidal terrorist organization."Former Muslim Association of Britain president Anas Altikriti then wrote to the editors of Harry's Place stating that Sawalha comments "contained a fundamental factual error".

"Therefore, we trust that you will withdraw the said piece with immediate effect and post an explanation of what had taken place, particularly now that some commentators, including Melanie Phillips [here and here], seem to have copied your quote, including the error aforementioned and used it for their own purposes. If this is not done immediately, we will have to pursue legal measures."

Last week, lawyers representing Sawalha wrote to the editors of Harry's Place threatening legal action. In the letter, London-based lawyers Dean and Dean insisted that their client had not made the alleged comments.

"We have received confirmation from Arab language experts that the Arabic word for 'lobby' was simply misspelled, resulting in a nonsensical word which meant nothing; least of all 'evil'," the letter said.

"What in fact was said in place of the words 'evil/noxious' was 'lobby'. Al-Jazeera immediately corrected the typing error when it was noticed and the Web site reflects this," it added.

The letter went on to say that unless the posting was removed and an apology published, action on grounds of defamation would be issued.

Harry's Place has denied the posting is defamatory and have said that they intend to defend the claim "vigorously"."

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