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Skepticism and freedom

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The video that could see Sanal Edamaruku jailed for “blasphemy”

At Leicester Skeptics in the Pub on June 19th, I’ll be talking about the link between skepticism and freedom of speech.

It’s hard to find a more pressing example of the problems that skeptics can face when powerful institutions threaten freedom of speech than that of Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Indian Rationalist Association. On May 10th, Sanal went on Indian TV to debunk a purported “miracle” at a Catholic Church in Mumbai. Now, after local Catholic groups reported him to the authorities, he is facing a criminal prosecution for “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community”.

The Rationalist Association have set up an online petition calling on the Catholic community to withdraw their complaint, and urging the Catholic authorities elsewhere in the world to speak out against the prosecution.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has a Twitter account here if you would like to send them a polite message urging them to speak out against the persecution of Sanal Edamaruku.

Things are also reaching a critical point here in the UK as the Libel Reform campaign seeks to ensure that the government’s proposed changes to our laws really do ensure that people asking difficult questions are properly  protected from vexatious prosecutions. The Libel Reform Campaign are now appealing to all those concerned about freedom of speech in Britain to contact their MP and join a mass lobby of Parliament on June 27th.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm

SOPA breaks the internet

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Written by Richard Wilson

January 17, 2012 at 10:09 pm

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Bell Pottinger’s threats over the Guardian’s Trafigura coverage

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From www.parliament.uk

Culture Media and Sports Committee: Further written evidence from Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian

…On 27 June 2008, Bell Pottinger sent a threatening message to the Guardian. They had previously sent similar threats and complaints to AP, whose agency dispatch had been published on-line by the Guardian. The message ended:

“Please note that in view of the gravity of these matters and of the allegations which have been published, I am copying Trafigura’s solicitors, Carter-Ruck, into this email.”

The letter demanded changes to the Guardian’s website to include this information:

“The Probo Koala … left Amsterdam with the full knowledge and clear approval of the Dutch authorities.” It also stated that the disposal company in Amsterdam had asked for extra fees “without any credible justification” and that “ship’s slops are commonly produced within the oil industry. To label Trafigura’s slops as ‘toxic waste’ in no way accurately reflects their true composition.”

On 16 September 2008, Trafigura posted a statement on their website claiming:

“Trafigura is in no way responsible for the sickness suffered by people in Abidjan … The discharge of slops from cargo vessels is a routine procedure that is undertaken all over the world.”

The company knew this was a misleading and false statement.

On 22 September 2008, the Guardian’s East Africa correspondent, Xan Rice, asked Trafigura some questions, in view of the then impending trial of local Ivoirian waste contractors.

Trafigura refused to answer, a refusal coupled with another pointed referral to libel solicitors. Bell Pottinger wrote: “I am copying this email to Carter-Ruck”.

Xan Rice’s article was not published by the Guardian.

The Ivoirian trial convicted local individuals for toxic dumping, Trafigura subsequently abandoned some of their lines of defence in the English litigation they originally claimed they had no duty of care, and could not have foreseen what the local dumpers might do. Trafigura now agreed instead, to pay anyone who could prove the toxic waste had made them ill. They continued to deny publicly that such a thing was possible.

Xan Rice again asked some factual questions. On 14 November 2008, Bell Pottinger responded “Please note that I am copying this correspondence to Carter-Ruck and to the Guardian’s legal department”. They added: “Any suggestion, even implicit, that Trafigura … should have stood trial in Ivory Coast would be completely unfounded and libellous … We insist that you refer in detail to the contents of the attached summary”.

They claimed to be sueing for libel the senior partner of Leigh Day who was bringing the English lawsuit. They added that further Leigh Day statements “are the subject of a complaint in Malicious Falsehood”[sic]. In fact, the libel proceedings against Martyn Day had been stayed, and no malicious falsehood proceedings had been – or were ever – issued.

A closely-typed six-page statement was attached. In it the company claimed to have “independent expert evidence” of the non-toxicity of the waste, but refused to disclose it. Trafigura repeated the false claim that the waste was merely “a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda”.

No Guardian article, once again, was published.

On 3 December 2008, less than 3 weeks later, Trafigura formally admitted to the High Court the true composition of the waste in its document “Likely chemical composition of the slops”, [detailed above].

On 5 December 2008, Trafigura formally admitted their waste came from Merox-style chemical processing attempts, and not from routine tank-rinsing.

On 29 April 2009, Carter-Ruck wrote to a Dutch paper: “Trafigura has been obliged to engage my firm to bring complaints against Volkskrant … It is indeed the case that we have on Trafigura’s behalf, written to a number of other media outlets around the world in respect of their coverage of this matter”. Bell Pottinger also confirmed contact with journalists who published or broadcast stories that did not accurately reflect Trafigura’s position, but added: “We completely disagree with your description of Trafigura’s involvement in an ‘aggressive media campaign’.”

On 13 May 2009, Bell Pottinger, in concert with Carter-Ruck, issued a statement to the BBC repeating two assertions known to be false.

They said the Leigh Day statement “is currently the subject of a malicious falsehood complaint made by Trafigura”. They also claimed once more: “The Probo Koala’s slops were a mixture of gasoline, water and caustic soda”.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 8, 2011 at 10:05 am

Posted in Censorship

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Amnesty International urges the release of Jean-Claude Kavumbagu

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From Amnesty International

BURUNDI: DEMAND RELEASE OF ONLINE EDITOR

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, the editor of a Burundian online news agency, Netpress, has been detained since July after suggesting that the Burundian security forces could not defend the country. He has not been tried and was denied a bail request on appeal in November.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu published an article on 12 July 2010, one day after suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, criticizing the capacity of Burundian security forces to protect the country from a terrorist attack. Somali Islamist armed group, al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the bombings in Uganda. They also threatened to attack Burundi in retaliation for Burundi’s participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s article said that “the anxiety has been palpable in Bujumbura and all those who have heard about [the bombings] yesterday in Kampala were convinced that if the al-Shabaab militants wanted to try ‘something’ in our country, they would succeed with disconcerting ease, [as] our defense and security forces shine in their capacity to pillage and kill their compatriots rather than defend our country.” He was arrested on 17 July, questioned without a lawyer, charged with treason, and transferred to Mpimba Central Prison, Bujumbura.

Treason is a crime punishable by life imprisonment and is only applicable under Burundian law in time of war. Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has also been charged with defamation and violating Burundi’s press law. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. His detention may detrimentally impact on the exercise of free expression in Burundi. It could increase self-censorship by other journalists to protect themselves from arbitrary arrest and detention.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s bail request was rejected on 6 September. At the appeal on 9 November, his defence claimed that violating the press law and defamation do not justify preventative detention and that treason is not a valid charge. However, the Appeal Court of Bujumbura confirmed his pre-trial detention on 11 November. As of 6 December, his lawyers had not received a copy of the ruling and were waiting for the trial date to be announced.

Mpimba Central Prison is overcrowded and insanitary and conditions fall well below international standards.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in French, English, Kirundi or your own language:

expressing grave concern that journalist Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been detained on charges of treason and defamation for criticizing the Burundian security services;

urging the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;

reminding the authorities that, as a state party to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Burundi is obliged to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 17 JANUARY 2011 TO:

President

Pierre Nkurunziza, Président de la République, Présidence de la République, Boulevard de l’Uprona, Rohero I, BP 1870, Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 24 89 08

Salutation: Monsieur le Président/ Your Excellency

Minister of Justice and Keeper of Seals

Madame Ancilla Ntakaburimvo

Ministre de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux, Ministère de la Justice et Garde des Sceaux, BP 1880Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 21 86 10

Salutation: Madame la Ministre

And copies to:

The Prosecutor of the Republic

Monsieur Elyse Ndaye

Procureur Générale de la République

Parquet Général

BP 105

Bujumbura, Burundi

Fax: +257 22 27 30 53

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

URGENT ACTION

BURUNDI: DEMAND RELEASE OF ONLINE EDITOR
ADditional Information

Burundi has a vibrant media and journalists continue to criticize the government despite attempts to silence them. The Burundian government has used prolonged pre-trial detention, harassment by judicial authorities and substantive and procedural violations of Burundian law to unduly restrict freedom of speech. Burundi is a state party to both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee the right to freedom of expression.

The Burundian government is particularly sensitive to criticism of their security forces. Al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamist armed group, has threatened to attack Burundi, as well as Uganda, in retaliation for their contributions to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). AMISOM is a peace support operation mandated to protect the institutions of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. The 11 July bombings in Kampala, Uganda, for which al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, killed 74 people who had come together to watch the World Cup Final, and injured another 70.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was arrested on 17 July by Colonel David Nikiza, the Commander of the Western Region, who presented him with a mandat d’amener (an order calling him before the prosecutor). He was charged with treason defined under Article 570 of the Burundian criminal code as: “any Burundian who, in times of war… knowingly participates in an attempt to demoralize the Army or the Nation, with the object of weakening national defense.” Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has also been charged with defamation (imputations dommageables), under Article 251 of the penal code, and violating Article 50 of the 2003 press law (loi No 1 025 du Novembre 2003 regissant la presse du Burundi).

On 30 July, Jean-Claude Kavumbagu was brought before the High Court in Bujumbura (Tribunal de Grande Instance de la Mairie de Bujumbura). His lawyer requested bail, arguing that his pre-trial detention was not prescribed by Burundian law. The court did not rule on the case because one judge had been transferred to another court two days earlier – a move attracting criticism from 10 civil society organizations in a joint communiqué because the judge waited until the trial date to notify the court. The court was forced to wait until September, after the August judicial holidays, to reconvene.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu’s bail request was finally heard on 1 September. The court ruled on 6 September that Jean-Claude Kavumbagu would be remanded in custody to ensure his availability for the investigation. At the appeal on 9 November, the defence called for provisional liberty claiming that two charges – violating the press law and defamation – did not, under Burundian law, justify preventative detention. The defence stated that if Jean-Claude Kavumbagu were to be charged with treason, the Prosecution would need to declare that Burundi was at war on 12 July. The representative for the Public Prosecutor stated that Burundi had not been at war on 12 July, but that it was for the court to decide. The Appeal Court of Bujumbura confirmed his pre-trial detention on 11 November.

Jean-Claude Kavumbagu has been a prisoner of conscience several times, most recently in 2008 when he was charged with defamation. He alleged that the cost of President Nkurunziza’s trip to see the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics had caused some civil servants’ salaries to be paid late. He was held in pre-trial detention for seven months before being acquitted in March 2009. The Prosecutor appealed the acquittal and the case remains open.

UA: 248/10 Index: AFR 16/004/2010 Issue Date: 06 December 2010

Written by Richard Wilson

December 12, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Wikileaks and Cablegate – Treasonous questions

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A few weeks ago I saw Wikileaks spokesman Julian Assange debating Times pundit David Aaronovitch on the ethics of transparency and disclosure, at City University in London. The big question of the night was whether Wikileaks should have done more to protect the identities of the Afghan informants featured in the now-famous US military Afghan War Logs – and to what extent Wikileaks would be culpable if anyone identified in the logs was killed by the Taleban.

David Aaronovitch came across as thoughtful, measured, and courteous – praising many of Assange’s achievements but challenging him to acknowledge greater moral complexity, and take more responsibility for the possible unintended consequences of his work.  Assange, by contrast, seemed condescending, and at times bad-tempered, giving a series of abstract and elliptical answers that were often much stronger on rhetoric than detail.

Although a number of Aaronovitch’s arguments seemed to me to be deeply flawed, they were masterfully made, and Assange did a poor job of responding to them.  The audience appeared unimpressed.

In my view, Julian Assange has done himself no favours by appearing to suggest that the greater-good of a more transparent world might justify (or morally counterbalance) some degree of “collateral damage” to innocent people inadvertently put at risk by being identified on Wikileaks.

It seems to me that there are some serious ethical issues at stake in the publication of details which could lead to increased risks for innocent people, and that there are valid questions to be asked about the Wikileaks “harm minimization policy”.

And yet I don’t believe that any of the above criticisms quite does the job that the most vehement critics of Wikileaks seem to want them to.  Julian Assange may be arrogant, condescending and a poor debating match for David Aaronovitch – he may even be guilty of the (as yet unproven) charges laid against him by the Swedish authorities. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s wrong about the realities of UK and US foreign policy, or about the need for a radical shift towards greater public transparency worldwide.

Likewise, if it did transpire (and I’m not aware of any direct evidence to date) that an innocent person had been injured or killed at the hands of someone who had identified them via a document published on Wikileaks, this would, in my view, be a serious moral indictment. But it would not necessarily mean that Wikileaks were at fault in seeking to publish the document in some form – only that they were negligent in failing to redact all identifiable personal details.

While the issue of “harm minimization” cannot simply be brushed aside, it is clearly not the only ethical issue at stake in the debate about Wikileaks. One of the most serious charges made against the UK and US governments in the light of the Afghan War Logs and the more recent “cablegate” revelations is that the political elites who determine policy – both the politicians and the bureaucrats who advise them – have systematically deceived their electorates about the realities of the war in Afghanistan. As John Naughton puts it:

The WikiLeaks revelations expose the extent to which the US and its allies see no real prospect of turning Afghanistan into a viable state, let alone a functioning democracy. They show that there is no light at the end of this tunnel. But the political establishments in Washington, London and Brussels cannot bring themselves to admit this. Afghanistan is, in that sense, the same kind of quagmire as Vietnam was. The only differences are that the war is now being fought by non-conscripted troops and we are not carpet-bombing civilians, but otherwise little has changed…

These realities are, of course, plain to see, because even the mainstream media, despite its need always to pay tribute to “our brave troops”, has had to report some of it. But what nobody has known until now — outside of the magic circles of the Beltway, Whitehall and NATO HQ — is that our rulers privately concede the hopelessness of the venture. The implicit cynicism and hypocrisy of this is breathtaking — and it goes a long way towards explaining the irrational fury of our political elites at having it exposed in so brutal and unmediated a fashion.

If this analysis is fair, then it seems to me that Naughton may also be broadly correct that the latest row “represents the first really serious confrontation between the established order and the culture of the Net”.

I’ve been aware of Wikileaks since the early days of their existence. But I began following them closely last year, after the Trafigura super-injunction scandal, which centred on an internal company document, the “Minton Report”, published by Wikileaks in September 2009. Being based far outside of UK legal jurisdiction, relatively anonymous and with an opaque legal structure, Wikileaks were able to publish the information freely, at a time when the UK media had been comprehensively gagged. The fact that the “banned” information was so easily available from Wikileaks to anyone in the UK via a simple Google search helped to render Trafigura’s super-injunction redundant. The injunction was ultimately dropped, allowing the mainstream press to report freely on the case.

The Trafigura incident  highlighted starkly just how constrained the UK media is. But it also gave insights into how a site like Wikileaks could be used to weaken and circumvent those constraints.  A UK court had issued an injunction threatening jail-time for contempt-of-court to anyone who so much as referred to the “Minton Report”. Wikileaks had blithely ignored it. It was impossible not to wonder what they would turn up next – or how far they would be allowed to go before a concerted attempt was made to shut them down.

The very existence of Wikileaks also seemed to point towards a larger question – how durable is the scale of freedom that has developed on the internet in recent years? Will the net really lead to a permanent “redistribution of data” – the mass availability of information previously so jealously guarded by the media and political elites? Or will the current era come to be seen as a short-lived blip – an involuntarily loosening of controls that lasted only as long as it took for the elites to figure out the dynamics of the new technology, devise new systems for bringing it under control, and develop the political means to apply those systems worldwide?

It seems possible that we will get some clues about these questions over the next year. Will Julian Assange receive a credible and fair trial in Sweden if, as seems likely, he is arrested and extradited in the next few weeks on rape charges? Will he ultimately be handed over to the US authorities and prosecuted for some yet-to-be-defined espionage offence – and if so will he get a fair trial there? Will the US government seek to make an example of the suspected whistleblower Bradley Manning by pressing for the death penalty, as senior Republican politicians appear to be demanding? Will the political fallout generated by the Wikileaks revelations lead US legislators to support new laws watering down constitutional free speech protections? Will US allies around the world be persuaded to modify their own laws to make it more difficult for websites like Wikileaks to operate outside the reach of US jurisdiction? Will the bulk of the established mainsteam media support such efforts at increased censorship, or seek to rally public opinion against them?

At this stage I still find the signs very difficult to read. Many technical people I’ve spoken to seem convinced that there is simply no practical way, in technological terms, of controlling internet traffic without also imposing Chinese-style levels of domestic political surveillance and repression. National governments may succeed in shutting down sites like Wikileaks temporarily, the argument goes – but while the technology for sharing large amounts of data and putting it online is so ubiquitous and easy to master, it’s inevitable that censored information will simply reappear elsewhere on the net before too long.

On the other hand, the forces ranged against Wikileaks – and the idea that it represents – now seem formidable. Where previously the United States – and to a lesser extent the member countries of the European Union – have taken a broadly liberal stance on internet censorship, the position appears to be shifting.  Commenting on developments in a statement earlier this week, the press freedom group Reporters Sans Frontieres noted that:

French digital economy minister Eric Besson today said the French government was looking at ways to ban hosting of the site. WikiLeaks was also recently dropped by its domain name provider EveryDNS. Meanwhile, several countries well known for for their disregard of freedom of expression and information, including Thailand and China, have blocked access to cablegate.wikileaks.org.

This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency. We are shocked to find countries such as France and the United States suddenly bringing their policies on freedom of expression into line with those of China. We point out that in France and the United States, it is up to the courts, not politicians, to decide whether or not a website should be closed.

While the five permanent members of the UN Security Council may not be able to agree unanimously on much, the political elites in Britain, France, Russia, the United States and China suddenly seem much closer to a consensus on the need to control the information that their subjects can access online. And while western countries have opposed moves within the UN to create an international convention criminalising the “defamation of religion”, it’s harder to predict which way they would jump if a UN member state proposed a treaty to impose global controls on the internet.

Striking, too, has been the character of response from many mainstream US establishment figures to the exposure of their country’s embarrassing secrets. Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House of Representatives) has called for Julian Assange to be treated as an “enemy combatant” – placing him in the same category as the terror suspects denied basic legal rights and detained and tortured at Guantanamo Bay. Former Republican Vice Presidential candidate and likely Presidential contender Sarah Palin has called for him to be “hunted like Osama bin Laden”. The Washington Times, meanwhile, has published what could be described as a “fatwa” by Jeffrey T Kuhner, the President of the “Edmund Burke Institute”, urging the extrajudicial killing of Julian Assange on English soil.

Already it seems that there is pressure within the United States to extend the legal category of “non-person”, previously reserved for those suspected of direct involvement in terrorist atrocities, to cover those who publish information that the government alleges puts national security at risk.

While it seems doubtful that the current US administration would go to such extremes, given the Republican Party’s current rhetoric, their past record on torture and due process, and the lack of any prosecutions to deter such abuses in future, it’s difficult to predict how far they will go if they succeed in winning back the Presidency at the next election.

The position of the established media, too, seems uncertain. While the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times have been instrumental in disseminating edited highlights of the recent Wikileaks disclosures, the conservative media have been active in airing the most authoritarian demands of the American hard-right, while others have been keen to offer their advice in how the “threat” might be contained.

“If America feels threatened by WikiLeaks”, writes the Economist, “then it should lean on its allies—Sweden, Iceland and Belgium—to strip the organisation of the protections it so carefully gathers as it shifts its information around the world. Mr Assange has suggested that he might be hounded all the way to Russia or Cuba. If he has to take all of his servers with him, it will be harder for him to act so boldly.”

Written by Richard Wilson

December 5, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Wikileaks in the 16th Century…

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(Title now updated thanks to the helpful copy-edit prompting of @coxar and @johnrentoul…)

There was once a time when it was considered “treasonous” to give the masses direct access to the holy texts of the Church. From Wikipedia:

William Tyndale was the first to translate considerable parts of the Bible into English, for a public, lay readership…

Tyndale’s was the first English translation to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, and the first to take advantage of the new medium of print, which allowed for its wide distribution.

This was taken to be a direct challenge to the hegemony of both the Catholic church and the English church and state….

In 1535, Tyndale was arrested by church authorities and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde outside Brussels for over a year. He was tried for heresy, strangled and burnt at the stake. The Tyndale Bible, as it was known, continued to play a key role in spreading Reformation ideas across Europe.

Written by Richard Wilson

November 30, 2010 at 12:24 pm

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Private Eye takes first prize in the “Trafigura Challenge”

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Private Eye wins the prize for being the first UK media outlet to report fully on these allegations about Trafigura and their law firm MacFarlanes. Here’s the PDF

Written by Richard Wilson

November 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm

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Libel abusers seek to tighten their grip as government mulls reform

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From the misguided threats against Labour activist Sally Bercow by the right-wing lobby group Migration Watch, to the renewed attacks on cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst by the controversial multinational NMT Medical, it’s clear that the abuses of our libel law will continue until some robust reforms are implemented.

As is perhaps to be expected given the money involved, the libel industry has been running a classic lobbying campaign against moves for reform. In the  process they have enlisted the help of the notorious former speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, who recently found his way into the Lords. I think this says something about the character of these people.

It seems to me that the libel industry could very easily win this unless pressure is maintained on the new government to do the right thing.

I’m pleased to join today’s mass-blog in urgent support of the libel reform campaign:

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at
http://www.libelreform.org/sign

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at
http://www.libelreform.org/sign

Written by Richard Wilson

November 10, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Guest post: “the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors to educate the donors’ taxpayers” – Thierry Uwamahoro

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“Free Kavumbagu” cause makes its way to the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC – guest post by Thierry Uwamahoro

Yes, you saw right! That was a “Free Kavumbagu” sign among the thousands of other rally signs that either made you laugh or left you scratching your head as you attempted to understand what they meant or who their intended audience was.

This Saturday (10.30.10), hundreds of thousands of Americans flocked to Washington, DC to join a rally whose objective was to restore sanity in the discourse of American politics.

However, American politics are never too far from world affairs as the American people pride themselves in calling their President, the “Leader of the Free World”. As a Burundian residing near Washington, DC, I was drawn to think of a fellow Burundian – a journalist – who was not part of the “Free World” as the Rally to Restore Sanity went on.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu is an internationally-renowned journalist and human rights defender who has been unjustly arrested five times in this decade, but has never been found guilty. Today, he remains behind bars, despite promises by Burundian authorities and global calls for his release.

On July 17th, 2010, Jean Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and later jailed over an article that he published on his online journal “Net Press”. The article questioned the preparedness of the Burundian security forces, were the Somalia based militia Al-Shabab to attack Bujumbura (Burundi). The Burundian government considered the publication of such article “treason”, a charge that carries a life imprisonment sentence. Paradoxically, treason is an offense that Burundian law only recognizes when the country is at war due to external aggression. This is not the case today!

Last September, after meetings with some of Burundi’s highest officials, Omar Faruk Osman (President of the Federation of African Journalists) and his delegation left Bujumbura (Burundi) on a highly promising and optimistic note summed up in these words: “We agreed with the leadership of the country the urgency to resolve the case of Kavumbagu and our message was clear that was no longer a mere Burundian affair but an African and international press freedom case”.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu’s freedom has become a national, regional, continental and global issue. The Union of Burundian Journalists and the entire Burundian civil society, the East African Journalists Association, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Federation of African Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, FrontLine, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch; to name just a few – have all called for the release of Jean Claude Kavumbagu.

But all these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Kavumbagu has –this week – passed the 100 day mark behind bars in the notorious “Mpimba” prison, despite his constitutional rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The call for Kavumbagu’s freedom must not fade. This is no time to despair and quit.

But why carry the call to Washington, DC? This week, according to the journal Arc-en-Ciel, Washington hosted a high level delegation comprised of Burundian security apparatus heavyweights: the Director of military cabinet in the office of the President (Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye), the Minister of Internal Security (General Alain Guillaume Bunyoni) and the army chief of staff (Major General Godefroid Niyombare) alongside the top civilian advisor to the President. The delegation’s goal, according to trusted sources, was to promote greater cooperation between Bujumbura and Washington, and to secure funding for capacity building projects for Burundian securities forces.

If Washington and the American taxpayers are to fund these forces (the same forces that are carrying out the arrests of journalists), one can safely assume that Washington will have a greater voice in demanding that these security institutions improve their human rights record; or, at least, that should Washington voice any concern, Bujumbura would listen.

Ideally, a few months after celebrating our 48th independence anniversary, Burundians should not be expecting foreign powers’ coercion to be the safeguard to our freedoms. However, we have to be realistic. When a given government’s budget is financed at the tune of 70% by the international community, the perverse outcome is accountability to its donors (instead of its citizens). It is unfortunate! In the meantime, the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors wherever they reside to educate the donors’ taxpayers. This Saturday, a few Americans learned of Burundi and of another name that they weren’t able to pronounce: Kavumbagu.

by Thierry Uwamahoro

Written by Richard Wilson

November 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Massive Denial-of-Service attack on human rights group Survival International

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Help beat the torturers and their cyber-hacking buddies – please blog or tweet about the attack on Survival International

The video that someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to see

Survival International works to defend the rights of tribal communities under threat from repressive governments and rogue corporations.

Last week they published and distributed a shocking video of Indonesian soldiers torturing tribal people in West Papua. This week their website was attacked and taken out of action. Other websites that published the torture video were also reportedly attacked.

According to Survival:

Starting with a test attack at 5pm (London time) on Wednesday 27 October, and building to a very sophisticated ‘distributed denial-of-service’ onslaught that evening, many thousands of PCs around the world simultaneously bombarded Survival’s website, knocking it offline.

Other organizations that hosted the torture video have also had their websites attacked.

Similar attacks occurred during Survival’s campaign against the Botswana government, after the Bushmen were evicted from their traditional lands.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘This isn’t a couple of geeks in a shed, it’s an expensive and sophisticated attack amounting to cyberterrorism. The damage to Survival International may be substantial but is of course nothing compared to that inflicted on West Papuan tribes or Botswana’s Bushmen. This is not just a local struggle for the survival of the few hundred remaining hunting Bushmen in Africa, or the more than one million oppressed tribespeople in Indonesian West Papua, it also epitomizes the onslaught against those who dare to reject the domination of money and government over human rights. The forces ranged against us are colossal, and may have won this round, but we will never give up.’

Written by Richard Wilson

October 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Support Jean-Claude Kavumbagu – Guest blog for Index on Censorship

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From Index on Censorship, Free Speech blog:

While Burundi’s war criminals go unpunished, my friend faces “treason” trial over critical article, says Richard Wilson

What do you do when someone you love gets murdered in a distant country you know almost nothing about? A decade ago my sister Charlotte died in a massacre in the small Central African state of Burundi. In the years that followed I was consumed by a need to understand why she had been killed, who had been responsible, and what, if anything could be done to bring them to book. Only a handful of people in the world could help me. Almost all were journalists. One of them was Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, editor of Burundi’s Netpress news agency.

The information, advice and contacts Jean-Claude gave me proved vital when I came to write the book about my sister’s life and death, Titanic Express. With truth comes a certain kind of cartharsis. To the extent that one ever can, I’ve “moved on” from what happened. But I will always remain endebted to those who helped my family find answers, asking nothing in return but that we do what we could to focus attention on the outrages happening in their country.

Jean-Claude has been a thorn in the side of successive governments in Burundi, both Hutu and Tutsi. His views are often controversial, but there is no questioning the price he has paid for them. In 1999, a year before my sister’s death, Jean-Claude was arrested by the Tutsi-led regime of Pierre Buyoya and held for two weeks on charges of operating an unregistered newspaper. He was detained again in 2001 by the same regime, and accused of insulting the public prosecutor. 2003 saw the installation of a new, Hutu-led government, which loudly proclaimed its commitment to peace, democracy and human rights. Three months later, Jean-Claude was arrested yet again and charged with “insulting the authorities”.

Elections in 2005 saw a landslide win for the Hutu ex-rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza, who has gained plaudits for his talk of “forgiveness” and “reconciliation”. Sadly, Nkurunziza has been markedly unforgiving of critical coverage by the independent media. While no serious efforts have been made to prosecute those responsible for the ethnic massacres that have plagued Burundi over the last two decades, in recent years dozens of independent journalists have been detained or threatened over their work.

[Click here for full article]

Written by Richard Wilson

August 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Censorship, Democracy

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V for Vendetta: “Don’t Get Fooled Again” cited in UK High Court defamation strike-out

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From the UK High Court, case HQ09X02688 (published by 5RB), March 2010:

THE CLAIM

2. Professor Bridle, who is the managing director of the Second Claimant company, brings this defamation claim against Mr Williams, a Health and Safety inspector employed by the Second Defendant, the Health and Safety Executive, (‘the HSE’) at the HSE’s offices in Cardiff. The claim is made in slander in respect of words allegedly spoken by Mr Williams, when acting in his capacity as an HSE inspector, on or about 24 July 2008, to representatives of the University of Wales Lampeter, Mr Cennydd Powell, the University’s Head of Estates, and his assistant Mr John Fowden.

3. The words complained of were that Professor Bridle “is not a real professor as he claims” and that Mr Powell and Mr Fowden (and by implication also the university and all other third parties generally) “should not believe a word that he says”. It is further said that in telephone conversations between Mr Williams and Mr Powell between 24 July and 31 July 2008, Mr Williams repeated to Mr Powell the alleged defamatory statements…

Summary of Defendants’ Submissions

…48. The Defendants submit that publications by the journalists referred to and by the author Richard Wilson in his book ‘Don’t Get Fooled Again’ contain far more serious allegations than those complained of in these proceedings. They are in permanent form, have received and continue to receive far wider publication and would inevitably have caused much greater damage to reputation than the alleged slander by an HSE inspector to the University’s estate manager and his assistant.

49. Richard Wilson’s book contains a Chapter entitled ‘Fake Experts and Non-Denial Denials’ which is almost entirely devoted to attacking Professor Bridle. It disparages his academic qualifications, and brands him as a ‘charlatan’ and a ‘liar’. An article in ‘The Guardian’ dated 30 June 2008 by Peter Wilby refers to Professor Bridle and Asbestos Watchdog in disparaging terms and suggests that his scientific credentials should be subject to careful scrutiny. A critical article suggesting that Professor Bridle was not a neutral expert and was linked to the Asbestos Cement Product Producers Association was published in CMAJ [ a scientific journal] by Kathleen Ruff on 22 December 2008. Critical comments have been published on a blog run by Richard Wilson in September 2008. Julie Burchill wrote an article critical of Professor Bridle and Christopher Booker in The Guardian on 2 November 2002.

50. It is therefore submitted that the incident giving rise to this claim is a peg on which Professor Bridle hopes to hang the next round of his campaign. It is submitted that he has been waiting for the opportunity to “get HSE in the dock” and this action is a contrived way of seeking that. It is submitted that were this action allowed to proceed it would also cause harassment and prejudice beyond that usually encountered in litigation…

CONCLUSIONS

…82. It is, I consider, apparent from the correspondence exhibited to the witness statements that the dominant motive in bringing the proceedings is to cause embarrassment and prejudice to the HSE because of the Claimant’s anger at the HSE’s refusal to accept his views on the subject in question. It is apparent from the evidence that Professor Bridle believes that a claim against the HSE will be likely to bring the debate about the difference in scientific views to a public forum more readily than a claim against an individual journalist would do. Thus I have concluded that, whilst I would not go so far as to characterise the claim as ‘vindictive’ in the same league as the claim in Wallis v Valentine, it does, in my view, fall into the category of a ‘vendetta’ as outlined in that case and in Bezant v Rausing.

83. I note particularly the fact that no defamation proceedings have been brought by Professor Bridle against any of the authors of some of the attacks made against him in the press, in the book by Richard Wilson and on the internet. The content of those publications are mostly in terms far more pejorative than the words alleged to have been spoken by Mr Williams, and will have had a much larger audience. The fact that such publications are widely available will inevitably put into issue the extent to which Professor Bridle’s reputation has been damaged by the alleged publication in this claim. I do not consider that Professor Bridle’s explanation as to why no such proceedings have been brought is credible when compared to the issue of these proceedings for words spoken in either a private meeting or a telephone conversation to either one or two persons (depending upon the evidence).

84. In the light of the lack of any convincing evidence as to why the HSE have been singled out for a claim, and the publishers of the publications referred to have not had proceedings brought against them, and on the basis of the evidence relied on by the Defendants, I have concluded that there is an improper collateral purpose to the claim against Mr Williams and the HSE, rather than simply vindication of reputation…

Accordingly the Defendant’s application for summary judgment and for strike out succeeds in its entirety.

*See also*: “Asbestos critic was ‘pursuing a vendetta’ against HSE”

Written by Richard Wilson

July 28, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Censorship, libel terrorism

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Interesting claims from renowned lawyer Mark Lewis on the Murdoch media phone-hacking scandal

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Via Jack of Kent

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN’S BENCH DIVISION

B E T W E E N

MARK LEWIS

Claimant

- and –

(1) COMMISSIONER FOR THE METROPOLITAN POLICE SERVICE

(2) BARONESS BUSCOMBE

(3) PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION

Defendants

___________________________

PARTICULARS OF CLAIM
___________________________

1. The Claimant is a solicitor.

2. The First Defendant is responsible for the Metropolitan Police Service (“MPS”).

3. The Second Defendant is employed as the Chairman of the Third Defendant.

4. The Third Defendant is a regulatory body for British newspapers and magazines.

5. At all material times the Second Defendant was acting in the course of her employment with the Third Defendant.

6. The Claimant acted as solicitor to Gordon Taylor and Joanne Armstrong, the Professional Footballers’ Association’s (“PFA”) Chief Executive and Legal Advisor and one other person (whose name remains confidential) in an action against News Group Newspapers (“NGN”) in regard to the hacking of mobile telephone messages by employees and/or agents of the News of the World (a newspaper owned by NGN).

7. In 2006 the MPS launched an investigation into the activities of Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective retained by the News of the World, and Clive Goodman, who was employed as the News of the World’s Royal Correspondent. The investigation discovered that Mr Mulcaire had improperly obtained the pin number required to access messages left on Mr Taylor’s mobile telephone voicemail. Mr Mulcaire used this pin number in order to retrieve voicemail messages left for Mr Taylor, thus breaching not only Mr Taylor’s confidence but also the confidence of the numerous persons who left messages for him, including Ms Armstrong.

8. On 26 November 2006 both Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept communications, contrary to section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977. The interceptions were of messages left for three members of the Royal Household.

9. Mr Mulcaire also pleaded guilty to five additional counts concerning the unlawful interception of the communications of figures with no connection with the Royal Household (and therefore having no connection with Mr Goodman’s work as a royal correspondent): Max Clifford, Skylet Andrew, Gordon Taylor, Simon Hughes MP and Elle Macpherson. Mr Goodman was not charged with these five offences. They related to interceptions carried out for a person or persons unknown at the News of the World.

10. In 2007 the Third Defendant conducted an investigation into the Mulcaire/Goodman scandal. It published a report entitled: PCC Report on Subterfuge and Newsgathering. During its investigation it posed a number of questions to Colin Myler, who had replaced Andy Coulson following his resignation as the News of the World’s editor, and Les Hinton, the Chief Executive of News International (the News of the World’s ultimate owner). At paragraph 6.3 the report concluded that:

No evidence has emerged either from the legal proceedings or the Commission’s questions to Mr Myler and Mr Hinton of a conspiracy at the newspaper going beyond Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire to subvert the law and the PCC’s Code of Practice. There is no evidence to challenge Mr Myler’s assertion that: Goodman had deceived his employer in order to obtain cash to pay Mulcaire; that he had concealed the identity of the source of information on royal stories; and that no-one else at the News of the World knew that Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire were tapping phone messages for stories.

11. On 6 March 2007 Mr Hinton gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Parliamentary Select Committee (“the Select Committee”). He reported that Mr Myler had told the Third Defendant 12 days earlier that Mr Goodman’s telephone hacking was “aberrational”, “a rogue exception”.

12. On 18 November 2008 the Select Committee commenced an investigation into press standards, privacy and libel. It investigated the News of the World’s involvement in the Mulcaire/Goodman telephone hacking scandal.

13. On 8 July 2009 The Guardian published an article by Nick Davies: Trail of hacking and deceit under nose of Tory PR chief. This concerned allegations that Mr Mulcaire’s actions had not been “aberrational” but that telephone hacking had been widely used by the News of the World in order illicitly to secure information. This article was followed up by one published on 9 July 2009: Revealed: Murdoch’s £1m bill for hiding dirty tricks. This stated that the PCC had been misled when it had been told by News International that Mr Mulcaire’s activities were “aberrational”.

14. As a consequence of the allegations made in The Guardian, on 9 July 2009 the Third Defendant commenced an investigation as to whether it had been misled in 2007. This investigation was independent from that being conducted by the Select Committee.

15. On 2 September 2009 the Claimant gave evidence to the Select Committee. He reported that whilst conducting Mr Taylor’s claim he had attended court in order to make an application for the disclosure of documents from the MPS. Whilst outside court he had a conversation with Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly, who was attending on behalf of the MPS. The Claimant’s evidence to the Select Committee was that:

DS Mark Maberly said to me: “You are not having everything but we will give you enough on Taylor to hang them.” Those were his words: “to hang them”. . . He also mentioned the number of people whose phones had been hacked. Whether that was an aside . . . but they said that there was evidence about, or they had found there were something like 6,000 people who were involved. It was not clear to me whether that was 6,000 phones which had been hacked or 6,000 people including the people who had left messages.

16. The Claimant’s evidence was published and attributed to him by name as follows:

16.1. it was broadcast live via Parliament’s website where a video recording and transcript of the relevant evidence was also published one or two days after the evidence was given. This material continues to be published on this website [From 16:44];

16.2. it was reported upon by The Guardian in an article entitled PCC finds no evidence that it was misled in phone hacking inquiry. The article was first published on 9 November 2009 and has continuously been published on The Guardian website since; and

16.3. it was published by the Third Defendant on 7 November 2009 in paragraph 11.1 of the PCC report on phone message tapping allegations (see paragraph 19 below), which has been published on the Third Defendant’s website since that date.

17. The Claimant’s evidence became widely known to journalists and to those who were interested in the telephone hacking controversy.

18. Immediately prior to the Claimant’s evidence to the Select Committee, Assistant Commissioner John Yates and Detective Chief Superintendent Philip Williams gave evidence to it in regard to the MPS investigation into telephone hacking by Mulcaire and Goodman. The Select Committee made it clear that it believed that the investigation had not been properly conducted by the MPS because it had failed to investigate the extent of the News of the World’s involvement in telephone hacking.

19. On 7 November 2009 the Third Defendant published the conclusions which it had reached as a result of the investigation which it had commenced on 9 July 2009: PCC report on phone message tapping allegations. At paragraph 13.2 it concluded that no evidence had emerged since its 2007 report which indicated that the practice of telephone tapping was engaged in by anyone other than Mulcaire and Goodman or that News of the World executives knew about those activities.

20. The PCC report on phone message tapping allegations was publicly derided:

20.1. Adam Price, a Plaid Cymru MP and member of the Select Committee stated: “I think it would be depressing if this PCC report was perceived by the public as a closing of the ranks within the industry.”; “I think the Guardian really was right to publish its story, was right to raise these questions. And I think it would be a shame if this report was in any way, shape or form interpreted as a slap across the wrists of the Guardian, which I think was raising legitimate questions.”; and that the Select Committee’s forthcoming report “would be able to give a fuller picture of the context of this story”.

20.2. Labour MP Paul Farrelly, a member of the Select Committee, described the PCC report as a “whitewash” and stated that “We (which in context meant the Select Committee) are seriously concerned about the effectiveness of the PCC and self-regulation in the industry,” He also said. “Any whitewash thrown over these events by the regulator will only heighten concerns that will be explored in our report.”

20.3. The above statements received substantial publicity in The Guardian, which also criticised the PCC report on phone message tapping allegations and the Third Defendant.

(I) PUBLICATION BY THE FIRST DEFENDANT

21. On 30 September 2009 Tim Toulmin, a director of the PCC, emailed DI Maberly (who had been promoted since the conversation with the Claimant had taken place). Mr Toulmin stated that whilst the Claimant had indicated to the Select Committee that DI Maberly had told him that “6,000 people were involved in the practice” of “phone message tapping at the News of the World”, John Yates and Andy Hayman (who had given evidence to the Committee on behalf of the MPS) had indicated that “only a handful of people were involved.” Mr Toulmin asked for an indication of the scale of the interceptions.

22. Emma Harraway of the MPS’ Directorate of Legal Services took instructions from DI Maberly. On 9 November 2009 she replied by letter on behalf of the First Defendant that DI Maberly had been “wrongly quoted” by the Claimant. She stated that the correct position was set out in the evidence of Assistant Commissioner John Yates and DCS Philip Williams given to the Select Committee.

23. On 11 November 2009 Mr Toulmin responded to Ms Harraway by email, asking if the correct position was that: “the suggestion that DI Mark Maberly claimed 6000 people were involved in the unlawful practice is wrong.” Ms Harraway responded by email at 16.10. This email included the following words which defamed the Claimant:

Your understanding is correct that DI Maberly has been wrongly quoted, and that you should rely on what Assistant Commissioner Yates and DCS Williams told the Select Committee.

24. In their natural and ordinary meaning or in their innuendo meaning the words complained of meant and were understood to mean that:

The Claimant lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by Detective Inspector Maberly.

Particular of innuendo

25. The context in which the words complained of were published was provided by those communications set out in paragraphs 21 and 22 above. Given that it had been stated in the correspondence that the MPS case was that there had been a handful of interceptions, the only explanation for the Claimant’s allegation that he had been told by the MPS that 6,000 persons had been involved in phone hacking was that he had invented that figure.

(II) PUBLICATIONS BY THE SECOND AND THIRD DEFENDANTS

Primary Publications

(1) The statement

26. On the 15 November 2009 the Second Defendant, acting in her capacity as the Chairman of the Third Defendant, issued a statement to the Society of Editors Annual Conference at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Stansted (“the conference/the statement”). It was published directly by the Second and Third Defendants in the following ways:

26.1. written copies were distributed at the conference;

26.2. it was published orally by the Second Defendant at the conference. The audience included journalists who were reporting upon rather than participating in the conference;

26.3. it was published on the Third Defendant’s website from that date forward; and

26.4. it is to be inferred that the Third Defendant also published it directly to newspapers, magazines and broadcasters as part of a press release or by other means (as was the case with the Second Defendant’s speech to the conference).

27. The statement contained the following words defamatory of the Claimant:

I would like to use this opportunity to say something on a subject that I know has been of great interest to some in the media and politics.

Last week, the PCC published a report following allegations we were misled by the News of the World during an inquiry we conducted in 2007 into how the phone message hacking situation involving Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman could have arisen.

Having reviewed all of the information available, we concluded that we were not materially misled.

While most people seemed to understand our reasons, one or two were less sure. I have chosen not to debate those matters in public, because our report speaks for itself.

But new evidence has come to light.

Those of you who are familiar with the case will recall the significance that was attached to the apparent evidence of a then Detective Sergeant from the Metropolitan Police called Mark Maberly. It was he who was alleged to have said that around 6,000 people had had their phone messages hacked or intercepted.

The allegation was made in oral evidence to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, and has also been published in the press. It was repeated just last Monday in some coverage questioning our report.

Since the publication of our report last Monday, the PCC has heard from Detective Inspector (as he now is) Maberly through lawyers for the Metropolitan Police.

This letter says that Mr Maberly has in fact been wrongly quoted on the 6,000 figure. The reliable evidence, we were told in an e-mail confirming the contents of the letter, is that given by Assistant Commissioner John Yates to the Select Committee, who referred to only a “handful” of people being potential victims.

In light of this, I am doing two things.

First, I am of course putting this new evidence to my colleagues in the Press Complaints Commission, because they will want to update our report to take account of this development.

Second, I have just spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, to draw this to his attention. Any suggestion that a Parliamentary Inquiry has been misled is of course an extremely serious matter.

28. Furthermore, after reading the statement the Second Defendant answered questions from journalists. She was asked by Chris Tryhorn, a reporter acting on behalf of Media Guardian, whether the letter from the MPS “had effectively withdrawn Maberly’s evidence”. She replied:

Maberly has been wrongly quoted in saying that 6,000 people were involved. He didn’t say it. He is said to have said it.

29. A substantial number of those persons who read or listened to the words complained of would have known that the Claimant was the person referred to as having given evidence to the effect that 6,000 persons were involved in telephone hacking. Paragraphs 16 to 16.3 above are repeated.

30. In their natural and ordinary meaning the words set out in paragraph 27 above meant and were intended to mean that:

The Claimant lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by Detective Inspector Maberly.

31. In their natural and ordinary meaning the words set out in paragraphs 27 and 28 (i.e. the slander, the reading out of the statement followed by the Second Defendant’s answer to the Mr Tryhorn’s question) meant and were intended to mean that:

The Claimant lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by Detective Inspector Maberly.

32. The words complained of were calculated to cause harm to the Claimant in his profession as a solicitor. A solicitor cannot properly practise unless he is a fit and proper person. In litigation, it is crucial that a solicitor’s statement of truth is accepted at face value.

Republications

33. The Second and Third Defendants knew and intended that the statement and any words added orally at the conference would be republished in the media:

33.1. The issue of telephone hacking by the News of the World was a matter of huge public interest.

33.2. The Second and Third Defendants intended to undermine the recent criticisms of the Third Defendant (and by implication the Second Defendant) by publishing the defamatory words set out above. The criticisms which they were seeking to undermine are outlined in paragraphs 20 to 20.3 above.

34. Alternatively it was reasonably foreseeable that the statement would be republished in the media.

(1) The Society of Editors website

35. On or shortly after 15 November 2009 the Second and Third Defendants caused a copy of the statement to be published in full on the website of the Society of Editors, where it continues to be published. A video recording of the statement was also published on the same website from or shortly after 15 November 2009 to a date which is currently unknown.

36. A substantial number of those persons who read or listened to the words complained of would have known that the Claimant was the person referred to as having given evidence to the effect that 6,000 persons were involved in telephone hacking:

36.1. Paragraphs 16 to 16.3 above are repeated.

36.2. In Police lawyers deny 6,000 people had phones hacked, an article written by Andrew Woodcock, the Press Association’s Chief Political Correspondent, which was published from 15 November 2009 onwards on the Society of Editors website, the Claimant was identified by name as the person who had given the evidence as to what DI Maberly had told him.

37. In their natural and ordinary meaning the words set out in paragraph 27 above meant and were intended to mean that:

The Claimant lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by Detective Inspector Maberly.

38. The Second and Third Defendants caused an article with the headline Report by Alexandra Fletcher and Adam Thorn to be published on the website of the Society of Editors from 15 November 2009 or shortly afterwards, where it continues to be published. This report included the following words which defamed the Claimant:

The SOE Lecture 2009
Baroness Buscombe, Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission
Chaired by Nigel Pickover, President, Society of Editors
. . .
Read the full text of Baroness Buscombe’s speech here (Word format)

Read Baroness Buscombe’s statement on new evidence in the phone message hacking episode (Word format)

Report by Alexandra Fletcher and Adam Thorn

The chair of the Press Complaints Commission dealt a blow to allegations of widespread phone tapping by the News of the World on Sunday when she revealed a key witness was misquoted.

Addressing the annual conference of the Society of Editors, Baroness Buscombe revealed that then Detective Sergeant Mark Maberly’s evidence related to only a handful of potential victims – and not the 6,000 quoted in some news reports.

She said lawyers for the Metropolitan Police this week contacted the PCC with the new revelations, which have now been passed on to the John Whittingdale, chair of the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which is investigating allegations that News of the World staff routinely hacked into text messages in pursuit of stories.

The allegation about Maberley saying there were thousands of possible victims ‘’was made in oral evidence to the Select Committee … and has also been published in the press,” the baroness said. This week’s letter from the Metropolitan Police lawyers “says that Mr Maberly has in fact been wrongly quoted on the 6,000 figure. The reliable evidence, we were told in an email confirming the contents of the letter, is that given by Assistant Commissioner John Yates to the Select Committee, who referred to only a ‘handful’ of people being potential victims.”

Buscombe said she would be putting this new evidence to her colleagues on the Press Complaints Commission, ‘’because they will want to update our report to take account of this development.’’ A recent PCC report concluded that the body had not been misled about the allegations.

She added that she had already told Whittingdale about the new evidence. “Any suggestion that a Parliamentary Inquiry has been misled is of course an extremely serious matter.”
. . .

Chris Tryhorn, a reporter from the Media Guardian, which first reported the phone tapping allegations, asked Buscombe whether the letter from the Metropolitan Police had effectively withdrawn Maberly’s evidence. Buscombe replied that Maberly: “has been wrongly quoted in saying that 6,000 people were involved. He didn’t say it. He is said to have said it.”

39. The particulars of reference set out at paragraphs 36 to 36.2 are repeated.

40. In their natural and ordinary meaning the words set out in paragraph 38 above meant and were intended to mean that:

The Claimant lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by Detective Sergeant Maberly.

(2) The Independent

41. On 16 November 2009 the Second and Third Defendants caused a report of the statement to be published in the print edition of The Independent and from that day forward on its website. It contained the following words which defamed the Claimant:

Parliamentary inquiry misled on phone hacks

Detective denies saying messages to 6,000 people were intercepted

A parliamentary inquiry into phone hacking by tabloid journalists may have been seriously misled, it emerged yesterday when lawyers acting for a Scotland Yard detective denied that he had ever claimed that messages to 6,000 people had been intercepted.

The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Baroness Buscombe, said that she had been written to by the Metropolitan Police lawyers acting for Detective Inspector Mark Maberly, who, according to evidence given to the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, had said that 6,000 people were victims of a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World, Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday tabloid. Baroness Buscombe was told that DI Maberly had “been wrongly quoted”. The police lawyers told her that the “reliable evidence” given to the committee was from Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who had said that only a “handful” of people were targeted.

“I have just spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, to draw this to his attention,” Baroness Buscombe was expected to tell the annual Society of Editors conference last night.

“Any suggestion that a Parliamentary Inquiry has been misled is an extremely serious matter.”

42. A substantial number of those persons who read or listened to the words complained of would have known that the Claimant was the person referred to as having given evidence to the effect that 6,000 persons were involved in telephone hacking. Paragraphs 16 to 16.3 above are repeated.

43. In their natural and ordinary meaning the words set out in paragraph 35 above meant and were intended to mean that:

The Claimant lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by Detective Inspector Maberly.

(3) Press Gazette

44. On 16 November 2009 the Second and Third Defendants caused a copy of the statement and a report of it to be published on the Press Gazette website, where they are still being published.

45. The Press Gazette’s report contained the following words which defamed the Claimant:

Buscombe: Police lawyers deny 6,000 phones hacked

The Commons’ inquiry looking into allegations of phone hacking by journalists may have been misled it emerged last night as Metropolitan Police lawyers acting for a senior officer on the force investigating reporters at the News of the World denied he had ever claimed 6,000 calls had been intercepted.

In a letter to the Press Complaints Commission, police lawyers said that evidence suggested only “a handful” of people were targeted rather than the thousands that were claimed in recent evidence given to the Commons’ Select Committee examining alleged phone-hacking.

PCC chairman, Baroness Buscombe, revealed the existence of the letter to delegates after her opening address to the Society of Editors conference, at Stansted, last night.

Baroness Buscombe said: “The PCC has heard from Detective Inspector – as he now is – Maberly through lawyers for the Metropolitan Police.

“This letter says that Mr Maberly has in fact been wrongly quoted on the 6,000 figure. The reliable evidence, we were told in an email confirming the contents of the letter, is that given by Assistant Commissioner John Yates to the Select Committee, who referred to only a ‘handful’ of people being potential victims.”
Evidence of phone hacking first emerged in 2007, when former News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glen Mulcaire were jailed for eavesdropping on royal aides and celebrities.

The News of the World then told a PCC inquiry that no one else at the paper was involved.

The inquiry’s findings were reviewed earlier this year after reports in The Guardian suggested that the practice was more widespread at the Sunday tabloid than previously believed.

In a report published last week, the PCC said it had found no evidence that it was misled by the News of the World in the original inquiry.

The PCC report was then criticised by a number of MPs, calling it a “whitewash”, and by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger who said it was “worse than pointless”.

Last night Buscombe said the commission would update its report in the light of the new information supplied to it about the evidence presented to the CMSC last month by solicitor Mark Lewis.

Lewis told the committee that he had been informed by Maberly that “they had found there were something like 6,000 people who were involved.”

“It was not clear to me whether that was 6,000 phones which had been hacked, or 6,000 people including the people who had left messages.”

Buscombe told delegates: “In light of this [lawyers' letter], I am doing two things.

“First, I am of course putting this new evidence to my colleagues on the Press Complaints Commission, because they will want to update our report to take account of this development.

“Second, I have just spoken to the chairman of the select committee on Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, to draw this to his attention. Any suggestion that a Parliamentary Inquiry has been misled is of course an extremely serious matter.”

46. In their natural and ordinary meaning the words set out in the republication of the statement and in the words set out immediately above meant and were intended to mean that:

The Claimant lied to the Parliamentary Select Committee about what he had been told by Detective Inspector Maberly.

DAMAGE

47. The Claimant was motivated by a strong sense of public duty in giving evidence to the Select Committee. He believed that his evidence would contribute important information to its investigation into the telephone hacking affair. The fact that in return for performing a public duty he has been so seriously libelled by the Defendants, all whom hold very senior positions in society, has contributed very greatly to his sense of injustice.

First Defendant

48. The distress caused to the Claimant by the First Defendant’s publication was aggravated because:

48.1. DI Maberly falsely denied the Claimant’s account of their conversation.

48.2. During the Mulcaire/Goodman investigation the MPS had seen or had taken into its possession documents which indicated that the number of potential victims of phone hacking carried out by Mr Mulcaire on behalf of the News of the World was substantial, running into the thousands. At the very least this evidence made it clear that the number involved far exceeded a “handful” (which term had been intended to mean and did mean no more than five or ten).

48.3. It is to be inferred that before Emma Harraway published the words complained of, she consulted not just with DI Maberly but also with senior officers who had been responsible for the Goodman/Mulcaire investigation. Those officers knew, by reason of the material referred to in the preceding paragraph, that it was far more likely that DI Maberly had referred to thousands rather than a “handful” of persons as potential victims of telephone hacking.

48.4. By these deceptions the employees and/or officers of the MPS who were involved in passing the relevant information to the Third Defendant cynically and untruthfully set out to undermine criticisms that had been made of the MPS, most notably by the Select Committee, for failing properly to investigate the true extent of the News of the World’s telephone hacking activities. Paragraph 18 above is repeated.

Second and Third Defendants

49. The distress caused to the Claimant by the publications brought about by the Second and Third Defendants was aggravated because:

49.1. Prior to making the statement, neither the Second nor the Third Defendant contacted the Claimant to inform him that DI Maberly had denied saying words to the effect set out in the Claimant’s evidence to the Select Committee.

49.2. The failure to contact the Claimant prior to publication was in breach of the Third Defendant’s own Code of Conduct regarding the obligation of the press not to “publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”. In its guidance to observing the code, the Third Defendant stresses that certain steps prior to publication are important in observing this rule, most particularly giving a “likely complainant . . . an adequate opportunity to respond”.

49.3. In not contacting the Claimant prior to publication the Second and Third Defendants have not only acted with gross unfairness but also hypocritically.

49.4. The Second and Third Defendants cynically chose to promulgate the self-serving statement issued by the MPS because it also served their self-interest in heading off criticism of the Third Defendant’s telephone hacking investigation. Paragraphs 20 to 20.3 above are repeated.

49.5. The Second and Third Defendants disregarded the obvious fact that the Claimant had no motive to fabricate the evidence which he gave to the Select Committee whereas it was likely (and was the case) that the First Defendant was motivated by a desire to undermine criticism of its failure properly to investigate the true extent of the News of the World’s phone hacking activities.

49.6. It was particularly spiteful to engage in the publicity stunt of publishing to the world at large the fact that the Second Defendant had written to the Chairman of the Select Committee in order to report that the Claimant had misled it.

50. In all the premises, the Defendants demonstrated a callous contempt for the Claimant’s dignity, reputation and feelings.

51. Unless restrained by this Honourable Court the Defendants will further publish or cause to be published the said or similar words defamatory of the Claimant.

AND the Claimant claims:

(1) Damages for libel, including aggravated damages;

(2) An injunction to restrain the Defendants, whether by themselves, their servants or agents or otherwise howsoever, from further publishing or causing or permitting the publication of the words complained of or of any similar words defamatory of the Claimant.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Censorship

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Independent breaks UK media silence over Trafigura trial in the Dutch courts

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With help from the newly-elected Green MP Caroline Lucas, The Independent  newspaper has taken a clear lead in the “Trafigura challenge” – the race to see which UK media outlet will be the first to report fully on the upcoming trial in the Dutch courts of the controversial oil company.

No UK newspaper or broadcaster has yet made any mention of  allegations made to Dutch prosecutors by Greenpeace – and widely featured in the Dutch media – that Trafigura and their law firm MacFarlanes sought to bribe witnesses in an earlier London court case. But the Independent has, by citing Caroline Lucas’ remarks, at least been able to reference the ongoing legal proceedings.

Under the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, “correct copies” of any Parliamentary publication may freely be republished without fear of legal action, including, crucially, any action under the UK’s notoriously expensive and one-sided libel laws, which Trafigura has been ruthlessly exploiting.

In a message on Twitter last night, Caroline Lucas promised an “EDM [Early Day Motion] and PQs [Parliamentary Questions] to follow”, so with luck the UK press may soon have more opportunities to cover this story freely.

From The Independent

Caroline Lucas used her maiden speech to raise concerns that the British media are unable to fully report legal proceedings involving the commodities trading company Trafigura.

The Green MP pledged to use her new position in Parliament to raise the issue after legal claims were launched in the Netherlands against the company, which chartered the ship whose toxic sludge was illegally dumped in the Ivory Coast in 2006.

The Dutch-based oil trader caused outrage last year when a High Court injunction issued on its behalf had the effect of blocking coverage of parliamentary proceedings involving its activities. The “super-injunction”, obtained by the law firm Carter Ruck, was amended after it was accused of infringing the supremacy of Parliament by preventing the reporting of a question tabled by an MP. Politicians from all sides criticised the legal manoeuvre.

The law firm agreed to change the injunction and insisted there was no question that Trafigura had sought to gag the media from reporting parliamentary proceedings.

In her maiden speech to the House of Commons, Ms Lucas said she was still concerned that proceedings in foreign courts were not being reported in Britain. She said: “Last year honourable members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

“There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly. This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here. And these are the kind of issues I would like to pursue.”

In unrelated proceedings, a court in Amsterdam is due to start hearing the trial next week of Trafigura for the alleged infringement of Dutch waste export laws relating to the Probo Koala, the chartered tanker whose waste was dumped at sites around the Ivorian city, Abidjan.

The company is accused along with the captain of the vessel, the municipal authorities in Amsterdam and a waste treatment company of breaking rules when the ship attempted to offload the waste in the Dutch city before it then departed for West Africa. The trial is expected to last five weeks.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 28, 2010 at 7:51 am

Caroline Lucas MP ups the stakes in the Trafigura Challenge

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The new Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has begun her House of Commons career in style. In her maiden speech this afternoon, Ms Lucas exercised Parliamentary privilege to help break the UK media’s silence over the upcoming trial in the Dutch courts of the oil company Trafigura.

Under the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840, “correct copies” of any Parliamentary publication may freely be republished without fear of legal action of any kind. This means that the UK media should now be able to make some reference to Trafigura’s legal entanglements, if only by republishing our first Green MP’s maiden speech.

If you’d like to help end the legal fiasco which has allowed a powerful multinational with a dubious track record to silence our entire media, do please support the petition for libel reform at www.libelreform.org/sign, and encourage your friends to do the same.

The text of Caroline Lucas’ speech will shortly be available on the official Parliamentary record – in the meantime it has been published by the Green Party here.  I’m also reproducing the text below.

Mr Speaker,

I am most grateful to you for calling me during today’s debate.

The environment is a subject dear to my heart, as I’m sure you know, and I’ll return to it in a moment.

I think anyone would find their first speech in this chamber daunting, given its history and traditions, and the many momentous events it has witnessed.

But I have an additional responsibility, which is to speak not only as the new Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, but also as the first representative of the Green Party to be elected to Westminster.

You have to go back several decades, to the election of the first Nationalist MPs in Scotland and Wales, to find the last maiden speech from a new national political party.

And perhaps a better comparison would be those first Socialist and Independent Labour MPs, over a century ago, whose arrival was seen as a sign of coming revolution.

When Keir Hardie made his maiden speech to this House, after winning the seat of West Ham South in 1892, there was an outcry.

Because instead of frock coat and top hat, he wore a tweed suit and deerstalker.  It’s hard to decide which of these choices would seem more inappropriate today.

But what Keir Hardie stood for now seems much more mainstream.

Progressive taxation, votes for women, free schooling, pensions and abolition of the House of Lords.

Though the last of these is an urgent task still before us, the rest are now seen as essential to our society.

What was once radical, even revolutionary, becomes understood, accepted and even cherished.

In speaking today, I am helped by an admirable tradition – that in your first speech to this House, you should refer to your constituency and to your predecessor.

David Lepper, who stood down at this election after thirteen years service as Member for Brighton Pavilion, was an enormously hard-working and highly-respected Member whose qualities transcend any differences of Party.  I am delighted to have this chance to thank him for his work on behalf of the people of Brighton.

It is also a great pleasure to speak about Brighton itself. It is, I am sure, well-known to many Members, if only from Party conferences.

My own Party has not yet grown to a size to justify the use of the Brighton Centre, although I hope that will change before long.

But I can say to honourable members who are not familiar with it,  that it is one of the UK’s premier conference venues; and there are proposals to invest in it further to help ensure that Brighton retains its status as the UK’s leading conference and tourism resort.

There are also the attractions of the shops and cafes of the Lanes and North Laine, the Pier and of course the Royal Pavilion itself, which gives its name to the constituency.

And beyond the immediate boundaries of the constituency and the city, there is the quietly beautiful countryside of the South Downs and the Sussex Weald.

Brighton has always had a tradition of independence – of doing things differently.   It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve.

We see this in the numbers of small businesses and freelancers within the constituency, and in the way in which diversity is not just tolerated, or respected, but positively welcomed and valued.

You have to work quite hard to be a “local character” in Brighton.

We do not have a single dominant employer in Brighton. As well as tourism and hospitality, we have two universities, whose students make an important cultural, as well as financial, contribution to the city.

There are also a large number of charities, campaigning groups and institutes based there, some local, others with a national or international reach, such as the Institute of Development Studies, all of which I will work to support in my time in this place.

I would like also to pay tribute to those wonderful Brighton organisations that work with women. In particular I’d like to mention Rise, who do amazing work with women who have been victims of domestic abuse.

Many of my constituents are employed in the public and voluntary sectors. They include doctors and teachers, nurses and police officers, and others from professions that do not always have the same level of attention or support from the media, or indeed from politicians.

But whatever the role – social workers, planning officers, highway engineers or border agency staff – we depend upon them.

I’m sure that members on all sides would agree that all those who work for the State should be respected and their contribution valued. In a time of cuts, with offhand comments about bureaucrats and pencil-pushers, that becomes yet more important.

There is also a Brighton that is perhaps less familiar to honourable members. The very popularity of the City puts pressure on transport and housing and on the quality of life.

Though there is prosperity, it is not shared equally. People are proud of Brighton, but they believe that it can be a better and fairer place to live and work.

I pledge to everything I can in this place to help achieve that, with a particular focus on creating more affordable, more sustainable housing.

Brighton was once the seat of the economist Henry Fawcett who, despite his blindness, was elected there in 1865. Shortly afterwards he married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the suffragists, a movement he himself had supported and encouraged.

So he lent his name to the Fawcett Society, which is still campaigning for greater women’s representation in politics.

The task of ensuring that Parliament better reflects the people that it represents remains work in progress – and as the first woman elected in Brighton Pavilion, this is work that I will do all that I can do advance.

I said when I began that I found this occasion daunting.

Perhaps the most difficult task is to say a few words about the latest radical move that the people of Brighton have made – that is, to elect the first Green MP to Parliament.

It has been a long journey.

The Green Party traces its origins back to 1973, and the issues highlighted in its first Manifesto for a Sustainable Society – including security of energy supply, tackling pollution, raising standards of welfare and striving for steady state economics – are even more urgent today.

If our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, I like to think we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need,  than we currently are today.

We fielded fifty candidates in the 1979 general election as the Ecology Party, and began to win seats on local councils. Representation in the European Parliament and the London Assembly followed.

Now, after nearly four decades of the kind of work on doorsteps and in council chambers which I am sure honourable members are all too familiar, we have more candidates and more members, and now our first MP.

A long journey.

Too long, I would say.

Politics needs to renew itself, and allow new ideas and visions to emerge.

Otherwise debate is the poorer, and more and more people will feel that they are not represented.

So I hope that if, and when, other new political movements arise, they will not be excluded by the system of voting. Reform here, as in other areas, is long-overdue.

The chance must not be squandered.   Most crucially, the people themselves must be given a choice about the way their representatives are elected.

And in my view, that means more than a referendum on the Alternative Vote – it means the choice of a genuinely proportional electoral system.

Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question: what can a single MP hope to achieve? I may not be alone in facing that question.

And since arriving in this place, and thinking about the contribution other members have made over the years, I am sure that the answer is clear, that a single MP can achieve a great deal.

A single MP can contribute to debates, to legislation, to scrutiny. Work that is valuable, if not always appreciated on the outside.

A single MP can speak up for their constituents.

A single MP can challenge the executive.  I am pleased that the government is to bring forward legislation to revoke a number of restrictions on people’s freedoms and liberties, such as identity cards.

But many restrictions remain. For example, control orders are to stay in force. Who is to speak for those affected and for the principle that people should not be held without charge, even if it is their own homes?

House arrest is something we deplore in other countries. I hope through debate we can conclude that it has no place here either.

A single MP can raise issues that cannot be aired elsewhere.

Last year Honourable Members from all sides of the House helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast.

There was particular concern that the media in this country were being prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly.

This remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts, and are being reported widely in other countries, but not here.

Finally, I would like to touch on the subject of today’s debate.

I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam – for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world – and then for ten years in the European Parliament.

But if we are to overcome this threat, then it is we in this chamber who must take the lead.

We must act so that the United Kingdom can meet its own responsibilities to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are changing our climate, and encourage and support other countries to do the same.

This House has signed up to the 10:10 Campaign – 10% emissions reductions in 2010.  That’s very good news.  But the truth is that we need 10% emission cuts every year, year on year, until we reach a zero carbon economy.

And time is running short.  If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, then it is this Parliament that must meet this historic task.

That gives us an extraordinary responsibility – and an extraordinary opportunity.

Because the good news is that the action that we need to tackle the climate crisis is action which can improve the quality of life for all of us – better, more affordable public transport, better insulated homes, the end of fuel poverty, stronger local communities and economies, and many more jobs.

I look forward to working with Members from all sides of the House on advancing these issues.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 27, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Trafigura and Macfarlanes deny bribing witnesses in toxic waste court case, threaten legal action against Dutch media

with 14 comments

Response to Volkskrant allegations, published on Scribd.com

Macfarlanes and Trafigura deny any involvement, whether direct or indirect, in what you describe as “bribery and influencing of witnesses”.

Not only would such conduct be grossly unethical, it would have been illegal and it would certainly have constituted serious professional misconduct by Macfarlanes. The suggestion that this firm or one of its partners would involve itself in such misconduct is as absurd as it is defamatory.

Furthermore, for reasons we touch on below, even if Macfarlanes or Trafigura had been willing to misconduct ourselves in this way (which we were not), it would have been completely illogical and counter-productive for us to have done so given the circumstances of these events.

We note that you acknowledge that these allegations are extremely serious. We trust, therefore, that if you consider yourself to be a responsible journalist, rather than pursuing a pre-meditated agenda against Trafigura, you will consider your position very carefully before publishing allegations about Macfarlanes which are indeed very serious, malicious, gravely defamatory, false and completely inconsistent with the previous course of conduct between the parties.

You state in your email that these are similar to allegations made last year. For the record, those allegations were also wholly without foundation. Indeed, they were formally withdrawn by the Claimants and their solicitors, Leigh Day & Co, in the Abidjan Personal Injury Group Litigation proceedings in September 2009.

Given your misapprehension of the true position and the fact that, regrettably, certain individuals have chosen to provide you with dishonest and malicious allegations, it is important that we address your questions.

It is equally important that you carefully consider our responses and weigh up how much reliance, if any, can be placed upon these false and malicious allegations.

In the event that you still decide to publish these allegations, we require you to ensure that you include our response to each allegation at the point in which it appears in the article.

You will appreciate that, given the seriousness and falsity of what you are seeking to allege, Macfarlanes and/or Trafigura will have no alternative but to commence legal proceedings without further notice if your story does not comply fully with the basic principles of truth, balanced reporting and responsible journalism.

From Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

Greenpeace accuses Trafigura

The environmental organisation accuses the multinational of having influenced witnesses.

In the Netherlands, Greenpeace has filed a complaint with the public prosecution against the multinational Trafigura, accusing the latter of having influenced witnesses and also of forgery.

According to the environmental organisation, a group of drivers reported to be Ivoirian would have agreed with Trafigura not to report being ill as a result of transporting toxic waste for the multinational.

A spokesman for Greenpeace has confirmed that information which had been disclosed by Dutch television and the center-left daily De Volkskrant.

According to the Ivorian justice, dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in August 2006, by the cargo Probo Koala, chartered by Trafigura from Amsterdam, had killed 17 people and poisoned thousands.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 18, 2010 at 7:49 am

Posted in Censorship

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Simon Singh: Osler case highlights need for prompt action by new government on Libel Reform

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Award-winning writer Simon Singh famously won a libel case earlier this year that had been brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association. Simon turned out today in support of Dave Osler, and gave me his thoughts on the wider issues highlighted by the case.

Written by Richard Wilson

May 13, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Censorship

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Major embarrassment for Trafigura as reports they claimed were defamatory win prestigious international journalism award

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Trafigura sued the BBC for libel over this report
– now the piece has won a major international media award

From the Center for Public Integrity

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2010 — A gutsy, collaborative series by four European news outlets about toxic waste dumping in Africa and a surprising exposé by a freelancer on payoffs by U.S. military contractors to the Taliban won the 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting.

The winners were announced tonight at the sixth Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The Pearl Awards are presented by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C.

The winners are:

  • Kjersti Knudsson and Synnove Bakke, Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.; David Leigh, The Guardian; Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean, BBC Newsnight; Jeroen Trommelen, de Volkskrant (Western Europe), for “Trafigura’s Toxic Waste Dump,” which exposed how a powerful offshore oil trader tried to cover up the poisoning of 30,000 West Africans.
  • Aram Roston, The Nation (United States), for “How the US Funds the Taliban,” on of how Pentagon military contractors in Afghanistan routinely pay millions of dollars in protection money to the Taliban to move supplies to U.S. troops. The project was sponsored by The Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

Written by Richard Wilson

April 25, 2010 at 6:41 am

*Flashmob* – Conservative Central Office, Monday May 3rd – Protest the Tories’ use of libel law to censor a BBC exposé about their leading financial donor

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From Facebook:

Name: ToxicTories Central Office Freedom Flash Mob
Category: Common InterestPolitics
Description: “If anyone else is as disgusted by the Tories use of our legal system to manipulate the way the this election is being reported as I am, please join us on Bank Holiday Monday (May 3rd), outside Conservative Part HQ at 12pm for a friendly, peaceful but very vocal flashmob. Your voice will be heard.”

Written by Richard Wilson

April 24, 2010 at 10:35 am

Posted in Censorship, Corruption

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Tories use legal threats to censor BBC Ashcroft exposé, then make false and misleading claims about their record on press freedom

with 7 comments

1. From The Independent, 19th March 2010

The BBC has shelved a Panorama documentary about the business affairs of the Tory billionaire Lord Ashcroft, because of a threat of legal action.

The Corporation has received what one insider described as “several very heavy letters” from Lord Ashcroft’s lawyers. There is now little or no prospect of the investigation being broadcast before the general election, if it goes out at all.

The hold-up will delight David Cameron’s campaign team, who had been trying to pressure the BBC into delaying the programme until after the general election. But sources inside the Corporation firmly deny that political pressure played a part in keeping the programme off the air, attributing the delay solely to the risk of legal action.

The Tories are anxious to suppress more publicity about Lord Ashcroft’s affairs after the outcry earlier this month when the Tory billionaire belatedly revealed that he is not domiciled in the UK for tax purposes, and so pays no tax on his huge overseas assets.

2. From The Guardian, April 23rd 2010

During a press conference convened to accuse Labour of “scaremongering” the elderly in their campaign literature, the Tory chairman, Eric Pickles, and the shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, were forced to defend the Conservatives from accusations they were involved in the onslaught of negative press against Clegg and his party…

Pickles added: “We have a free and vigorous press, and beware of politicians who tells you that the press have gone too far. Beware of politicians who want to put restraints on the press. We don’t complain when articles are written about us and we might be unhappy about it.”

When challenged by one journalist on whether this was true, he said: “Well, we don’t go too far – we might be occasionally a bit unhappy, but we don’t think it’s a great conspiracy.

“This is not Zimbabwe or the Soviet Union. No political party, no government controls the press.

Written by Richard Wilson

April 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Censorship

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