Suppressed Books on Terrorism Highlighted

The Spiked Review of Books gives space for the authors of five politically-diverse books on terrorism which have been “‘erased from the map’ by English libel actions” to showcase their suppressed works.

As I noted a few days ago, not only have the books themselves been taken out of the public domain – the UK media is also ignoring the problem. According to Private Eye, the Economist, the Spectator, and the London Observer have all spiked articles about the Saudi billionaire who brought or threatened the various libel actions.

As well as the five books overviewed by Spiked, the UK edition of Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud has also been cancelled due to threats from the same source.

(Hat tip: Cursor)

Journalist-Critic of Uzbek Regime Murdered

Reporting on Islamist groups led to “terrorist” designation in US

Twenty-six-year-old Uzbek journalist Alisher Saipov has been shot dead in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, apparently by Uzbek security agents. Human Rights Watch reports:

Saipov was a regular contributor to news agencies such as Ferghana.Ru, Voice of America, and RFE/RL. In May, Saipov began regularly publishing a weekly Uzbek language newspaper Siosat [Politics], devoted to covering politics, human rights, and religious persecution in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Saipov distributed Siosat widely in southern Kyrgyzstan, where a large number of ethnic Uzbeks live and regularly travel across the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border.

Saipov was one of Central Asia’s most outspoken and active critics of the Uzbek government. He was instrumental in reporting about the immediate aftermath of the 2005 uprising and massacre in the Uzbek city of Andijan. Saipov reported on the harassment of Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers, including those who fled Andijan, by Uzbek security agents in southern Kyrgyzstan. In addition, he advocated on their behalf with human rights organizations and other groups.

The Uzbek regime labelled Saipov a supporter of terrorism – doubtless because, like some other commentators (such as Ahmed Rashid and Craig Murray), he had made the point that government suppression in the region was encouraging the growth of Islamist movements. Apparently at least one US agency was willing to take Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s word for it, as was reported in a Japan Times profile by Jeff Kingston last year:

…Saipov is somehow designated a terrorist on some list in some agency in the U.S. government — but he doesn’t know why. Others speculated to me that his recent reporting on members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan seeking asylum in Iran may have been a factor. Also, his reporting on Islamic groups advocating the creation of a Central Asian caliphate may have landed him in the Kafka-esque purgatory of terrorist “fellow traveler” redolent of McCarthy-era red-baiting.

…Nonetheless, Saipov remains favorably disposed to America, and supports keeping the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan…What Saipov is more concerned about is the rebound of Russian influence in this former Soviet republic where they, too, have an air base — that, and the rising tide of Chinese economic penetration.

So was Saipov placed on the nameless US agency list as a favour to Karimov, or was it just gross incompetence? Somehow I doubt we’ll ever know.

A report in today’s London Observer adds:

The Siyosat (Politics) newspaper office, outside which he was killed, is now closed. All his computers, notebooks and mobile phones have been confiscated. Shocked and shaken, his colleagues say they fear intelligence-sharing between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan could mean many people in Alisher’s vast network of contacts may be in danger.

The Japan Times profile also showed that Saipov was aware of the dangers of his work, and was willing to make a stand:

…He still bore signs of a savage beating that had landed him in hospital six weeks earlier. Apparently some readers took exception to his editorial line on the political links of organized crime…Over dinner, Saipov showed no signs of backing down, saying that the duty of a journalist is to give people hope by not giving in to fear.

Book Review: Barbara Victor (2005) The Last Crusade

Barbara Victor
The Last Crusade: Religion and the Politics of Misdirection
London: Constable, 2005
This review refers to the UK paperback edition.

An evangelical advisor to George W Bush who believes that to kill by dying has been “programmed into the DNA of all Arab people since the beginning of time” (242). An ex-associate of the Promise Keepers who claims he saw “homosexual advances” by other members (177). A well-known Charismatic Christian leader who urges adult men to get circumcised because “God wants to touch man’s creative parts” (178). Just three of the more remarkable anecdotes that appear in Barbara Victor‘s The Last Crusade: Religion and the Politics of Misdirection. Victor, a CBS journalist, overviews the political significance of the US Christian right, concentrating on the current administration and on Christian Zionist organisations. Much of the ground is familiar, and there are some unfortunate errors in places, but the book contains important interview material and draws attention to some significant players.

The book is divided into three sections: a historical discussion of “The Birth of Evangelical Christianity”; “The Evangelicals and Israel”; and a short round-up of assorted material entitled “The Jesus Factor”. Poor structure means that at least one chapter in the first part (“To Walk Where Jesus Walked”) would have been better placed in the second.

This second section, which is the most substantial, introduces a number Christian Zionist strategists and lobbyists, such as Annette Lantos, husband of Tom Lantos (and, incidentally, cousin of Zsa Zsa Gabor). Annette is a Jewish convert to Christianity who believes God has spoken to her directly, while Tom is an atheist, but the two of them work closely with CIPAC, the Christians’ Israel Public Action Campaign. Annette believes that God has made Palestinians into terrorists so that the “Road Map” will not work (228).

Victor also meets Esther Levens, who heads the National Unity Coalition for Israel. The NUC is apparently financed by Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), and Victor goes along to one meeting where Sam Brownback is the guest speaker. Among those in attendance, Victor notes (206) retired Brigadier General James M Hutchens, who is a former US army chaplain and president of Christians for Israel, and the ubiquitous Frank Gaffney. Gaffney tells Victor that

Those who are fervent in their support of Israel are now welcome in the Bush White House…What you’re seeing today is that the policy of the United States government is being influenced by a group of people on the outside who are influencing those on the inside, when it comes to the American position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (206-7)

On another occasion, Levens tells Victor that she supports “transfer” – the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank (or rather, from “Judea and Samaria”) – but she acknowledges that “We have to put it in such a way that it doesn’t offend people” (230). Gary Bauer agrees with her that “we have to present it in a way that is not incendiary”. Richard Hellman, who heads CIPAC, explains that transfer could be organised over several years, and that

Senator Inhoff, Brownback, [Mark] Pence, Todd Tiart, and also Tom Lantos are in our corner, as are Tom DeLay and Dick Armey when he was in Congress, as well as the famous runner Jim Ryan… (212)

There is also an encounter with George and Cheryl Morrison, who run the Faith Bible Church of Denver. This church has a particular link with the Israeli settlement of Ariel, and church members go on tour there – for which purpose they don Israeli army uniforms. The Morrisons claim that a famous Evangelical singer is a member of their congregation, and that this person is close to Bush and has warned him not to push the Road Map or to criticise the Separation Wall (219-222).

Christian Zionism is also evident at Clear Channel; Herb Zweibon of Americans for a Safe Israel boasts that a Christian minister who sits on the board of the company gave him a special deal for billboard advertising in order to oppose concessions to the Palestinians (225). According to Bush aide Doug Wead:

Ninety per cent, in fact, of all Americans believe in a personal God, and that’s a very high number. So I wouldn’t put any bets on any Middle East peace accord just now. (260)

However, while these quotes are undoubtedly very valuable, Victor’s conclusions are not always clear-cut. For example, she claims that Bush’s infamous use of the word “crusade” was inspired by Ed McAteer’s description of Muhammad as a “terrorist”; but she doesn’t satisfactorily show how the two speeches were connected (38); it’s troubling to see the author go so blithely beyond the evidence.

A number of factual errors in the book also seriously undermine its value. Perhaps the most egregious appears on page 62, where Victor gives a historical overview of Abraham Vereide’s secretive organisation “The Family” and tells us that John F Kennedy was among those who decided on the course of the organisation following Vereide’s death. Vereide died in 1969. We’re also told (265) that 14 April 1996 was “shortly before” the Rabin-Arafat handshake, when in fact Rabin had been assassinated the previous November (the handshake was actually 13 September 1993). Another howler makes William Jennings Bryan a Republican, and William McKinley by implication a Democrat (57). Even Bill Clinton’s most famous utterance is unnecessarily and perplexingly botched, becoming “I have never had intercourse with that woman” (139).

Victor is also unsure of her ground when giving us the wider evangelical context, and it is significant that her endnotes contain no references to scholars of American evangelical history such as Randall Balmer, George Marsden, or Mark Noll. She tells us that Mike Evans and Ed McAteer established the National Prayer Breakfast in 1953 (59) – but Evans was born in 1947! She’s confused the famous Eisenhower-era event with Evans’s National Prayer Breakfast in Honor of Israel. She also calls Evans “a leader in the ‘Mission-to-the-Jews’ movement”, without explaining what that means. Mel Gibson is supposedly an adherent of the neo-Pentecostal Vineyard grouping of churches (176), which is particularly weird given that his Catholic traditionalism is common knowledge. The Southern Baptist Convention is described as “the largest group of Charismatic Christians in America” (237), when Charismatic Southern Baptists are in fact somewhat marginal.

The book is also only a partial account. Christian Zionism is an important factor in Evangelical foreign policy concerns, but it is not the whole story. To their credit, Evangelicals have also taken on internationalist concerns such as human trafficking, Darfur, and (more controversially within the movement) the environment. Allen Hertzke’s 2004 Freeing God’s Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights comes to mind as a corrective (as well as being by far a more substantial work).

There are also a few places where a stronger editorial hand might have avoided some literary embarrassments. Victor visited a Baptist congregation which “literally glowed” (9), and when the USS St Louis sank during World War II, Ed McAteer was “one of the sole survivors” (31).

The Last Crusade gives the distinct impression of being a journalistic potboiler knocked off in a hurry, which is a great shame, as it could have been a significant contribution. I found it contained a lot of useful information, but I kept wondering about the accuracy of the material I was reading.

(Cross-posted to Talk to Action)

Private Pasts and Public Interests

Here’s an interesting free speech case, from The Anorak:

“BBC star’s grandfather faced Nazi war crimes trial,” announces the [Daily] Mail…The Mail notes that the elder and now dead Szymon Serafinowizc appeared at the Old Bailey in 1997 accused of “enthusiastically” helping eradicate the 3,000-strong Jewish population around the capital of Minsk. He was a police chief in his native Belarus when it was occupied by the Nazis. The case was dropped because he was unfit to stand trial.

…”[Law firm] Schillings insisted that the allegations against [Peter] Serafinowicz’s grandfather were a private matter under the Human Rights Act. It demanded that the paper gave an undertaking never to publish the comedian’s connection to the war crimes case,” notes the paper.

Peter Serafinowicz chose to ignore Schillings’ advice.

I certainly can’t see any good reason why Serafinowicz’s family history needs to be made a matter of public discussion now, but I also don’t see why it should be suppressed by legal means (or even what the point would be of trying, given the particularly distinctive surname).

But to raise a more general point, and to move away from family history to personal history, how does the right to privacy relate more generally to things in a person’s past that might be controversial or discreditable? In UK libel law you can even in certain circumstances sue someone for writing something that is true, if “malice” can be proven.

I recently came across an essay on the subject by Sean Gabb, who is the chief ideologue of the British “libertarian right”. I’m not a fan of Gabb at all, and there is much in this essay to take issue with, but there were a few interesting paragraphs that caught my attention. Gabb gives two hypothetical examples, the first of which is a vicar who had once played a piano in a brothel. Should this youthful indiscretion be allowed to become public years later?

This is clearly an attack on his “interest in seclusion, or in his personal dignity and self-respect, or in being free from personal upset”. But, bearing in mind its truth, no good principle can be laid down by which its revelation ought to be restrained.

Suppose a man had once been in charge of a passenger ship, and, panicking, had deserted it in a storm, taking only the crew with him; and the ship’s survival and the safe arrival of the passengers had been matters left to chance. Everyone, perhaps, is liable at some time to act out of character; and, assuming no loss of life or great loss of property, he ought not to be pointed at for the rest of his life. But suppose that, some years after this lapse, he again takes charge of a ship and advertises for passengers: is the passing round of a warning to be made an actionable matter?

The answer is surely not. Yet where is the difference between these two hypothetical instances? It might be said that the second involves a revelation made in the public interest, and not the first. But it would be hard to imagine why a newspaper should want to take up space with the early life of an entirely private and untopical clergyman. Its most likely reason would be that he was now undertaking, or about to undertake, a work of interest to the public. This might be taking a party of children on a foreign holiday, or becoming Chairman of a Synodic committee, or leading a campaign for some change in the law. Depending on what he was doing, his past might be, to some people, of the utmost importance as a reflection on his character in the present. There might be people who would resolutely claim that, whatever he had done or was now doing, his past ought to be regarded as a closed book. There might be any number of others who would disagree. Parents, strict moralists, political opponents looking for proof of current hypocrisy – any of these might very well claim a right to know.

If someone is to have a right to privacy in this respect, either it must be absolute or it must be qualified on the grounds of there being a public interest to know the truth about his character. If absolute, the right would be clearly outrageous. If qualified, the courts would be put to the task of drawing lines where the mixed state of public opinion gives no guidance for drawing them…the line between what others should and should not be allowed the right to know is not one to be drawn by the courts.

This seems to me fairly straightforward, and I can’t see how a right or left “libertarian” could dissent from it and maintain political integrity.

We all know that all sorts of things in a person’s private past (or family background) could be dredged up simply to harass and distress, although in such cases one hopes that society is mature enough that the person doing the dredging will be repudiated by the public, rather than the victim. Laws suppressing such information, though, also risk legitimate enquiry in the public interest.

(Hat tip: Tim Ireland, who makes merry with the idea of the Daily Mail raising a Nazi family connection; in the 1930s the Mail notoriously backed British fascist Oswald Mosley)

UK Press Spikes Another Article on Bin Mahfouz

The new Private Eye magazine (1196, p. 7) notes the continuing chill over free speech in the UK caused by litigious Saudi billionaire Sheik Khalid bin Mahfouz. As has been widely reported (and blogged by me here and here), thanks to the Sheik’s libel threats, both the left-wing Pluto Press and the Cambridge University Press have pulped books, while the American neo-conservative Deborah Ehrenfield lost a case on default when the Sheik chose to sue her in London (apparently 23 copies reached the UK via Amazon). Ehrenfield is now counter-suing in New York, and the case has drawn considerable comment in the US press. In the UK, however, all is silent:

Three months after the pulping of Alms for Jihad, the controversy hasn’t been mentioned in a single British national newspaper. An Observer column on the subject was stopped by the paper’s lawyers, as was a long piece in the Spectator. Now the Eye learns that a similar article for the Economist has also been spiked.

Florida Governor’s Bible Scroll Controversy

Here’s one I missed from a few days ago:

TALLAHASSEE —  Saying it is ”fundamental” to freedom to be able to display ”religious symbols,” Gov. Charlie Crist has quietly placed a boxed Jewish scroll on the door leading into his formal Capitol office…Crist said…that he is “celebrating the diversity that is Florida: many religions, many people, many opportunities.”…”Being able to display religious symbols is just as fundamental as being able to practice your religious beliefs,” the statement said. “I am honored to display a mezuzah on my door. The freedoms and ideals that make our country great are the same ideals that people all over world seek every day.”

Crist was given the mezuzah, which contains extracts from the Bible (Deut 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, to be precise), by Rep. Adam Hasner on a recent trade mission to Israel:

Hanging the mezuzah was a show of gratitude to Hasner and a demonstration of awe inspired by his trip to Israel, Crist said.

It was installed with the help of Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Schneur Oirechman. The ACLU, meanwhile, complains that displaying the mezuzah on government property undermines the principle of religious neutrality, and suggests that Crist will be obliged to display other religious symbols. Rep. Dan Gelber, defending Crist, made a strange observation:

“I know a lot of people, Jews and Christians and Muslims, who put these on their door. It’s a good luck sign. For some people it has religious meaning. But I don’t think there’s anything improper about it. I don’t think it’s intended to proselytize,”

So it’s just a superstitious amulet rather than a religious symbol, then? Interesting distinction.

Prior to his election, Crist explained that

…Floridians would “rarely” see the public pronouncements of his faith that have been common from [Jeb] Bush.

“I have a deep faith in God, but it’s not something I’ve ever worn on my sleeve,” he said. “To me, it’s a private thing, and maybe that’s the way it is for most people.”

Unless it’s some kind of mystical “awe” experienced during a trade mission, of course…

Crist said that the religious conservatives who have had great access to Bush’s office would find an open door to his, as would other groups – meaning that the religious conservatives’ voice would carry less weight than it has.

“All religious groups would have access to the governor’s office if I’m elected,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s a big tent.”

Crist also spoke about religious displays:

…Even on the issue of the Ten Commandments – a U.S. Supreme Court case in which Crist’s office filed a friend of the court brief in favor of the displays – Crist said he would draw a distinction based on the money involved and how many people would see the message.

…Crist said he would support such displays as allowed by the court, particularly if the public money involved were a “nominal amount” and the display would affect a relatively small number of people, but he would oppose putting the commandments in every public school classroom, where they would be imposed upon children of non-monotheistic traditions.

So is Crist’s mezuzah really about “diversity”, as he claims, or is it just a bit of religious pandering? If the latter, Crist may not have Jews in mind so much as the Christian right, who appreciate this kind of “Judeo-Christian heritage” gesture. And when Crist leaves office, will his successor be willing to have bare a door jamb with two nail holes forever reminding visitors that he or she chose to remove a religious symbol?

It’s also worth noting that there has been a trend in recent years for some Christians to appropriate Jewish cultural products: back in May I blogged on a company which provides Christians (and not just Messianic Jews) with shofars, mezuzahs, menorahs, Kiddush cups, prayer shawls and other items.

World 6,010 Years Old TODAY!

See here.

Funnily enough, when WND first announced it was selling copies of Archbishop Ussher’s opus, it actually downplayed the “4004” date. I blogged on the book and its publisher here.

Documentary Highlights Orthodox Nationalism in Russia

Russian news announcer:

Today Moscow celebrated Paratroopers’ Day and the Orthodox Christian festival of St Elijah. The Federal and Moscow governments have decided to make it a joint holiday and to bring the paratroops and faithful together on Red Square because St Cyril is the patron saint of the paratroopers. The festivities demonstrated the union of the Holy and military spirit and was held with the approval of President Vladimir Putin. The president’s approval reflects the co-operation between the civil and church authorities…From now on, the church and army will celebrate their holidays together…Both sides are showing the way ahead: Patriotism.

Just one scene from Nino Kirtadze’s excellent documentary For God, Tsar and the Fatherland (also known as Russia’s Village of Fools), which gives us a window into Orthodox nationalism in contemporary Russia. A trailer can be viewed here; it was broadcast on BBC Four last week. The filmmakers take a “fly on the wall” approach, and they focus on Durakovo, a work camp and religious community where young Russians go to learn Orthodox values from a bear-like character named Mikhail Fedorvich Morozov. Morozov explains that he enjoys the support of the church hierarchy, and that his board of trustees includes Sergei Nikolaevich Baburin, the deputy speaker in the Duma. He also boasts in conversation that someone from State Security has paid him a visit; Barburin suggests gently that he ought to be more discreet. One scene shows Mikhail Morozov giving a sermon to his interns, mostly young people to whom he has given purpose and direction:

Let me speak seriously of my vision of the world: God is in heaven and the Tsar is on earth. There is no such thing as democracy with God. Everything is clearly hierarchical and everyone has his place. Everyone serves God…I like our president…and you have to obey him. It is your duty. Because there is only God-given authority…The democracy we had here [under perestroika] and the way it was imposed on us, well, we also saw what was happening. It brought only disaster and lawlessness…All this only leads to one thing – destruction…Today, more than ever, our country needs a vertical of power. If you don’t want to obey, fine, buy yourself a ticket to another country.

One of those who is under Morozov’s influence explains that he first met him at the Novospassky monastery in Moscow. A young boy at the camp tells the camera that

We sold our country to the Americans…The last thing to survive all this was the Orthodox Church.

Scenes at Durakovo are contrasted with Baburin’s activities in the Duma, such as a press conference where he explains that

Gorbachev opened the floodgates during perestroika, when freedom of speech was raised to the level of complete irresponsibility. And now that permissiveness is disappearing. Today the state controls television and radio. Now we are happy.

Ruminations on “imperial Russia” follow. Baburin also stresses the need to make links with Iran and Venezuela, and he meets a Venezuelan delegation.

Not encouraging developments…

(Incidentally, the documentary is profiled on the Why Democracy? website along with a number of other programmes that were recently broadcast by the BBC, including Bloody Cartoons, about the Danish Muhammad cartoon furore. However, if you’d like a bit of bathos rather than extremism and sinister nationalism, I would particularly recommend a viewing of The Kawasaki Candidate.)

Lukashenko Complains of “Pig Sty” Jewish City

Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, 2000:

On December 28, Alexander Lukashenko, who is planning to visit Israel on January 4-7, blamed the Jewish state for the “limited relations between the two countries.” “Although many Israelis are former Belarusian Jews and there are still 100,000 Jews remaining in Belarus, the two states have failed to build close or extensive mutual relations,” Lukashenko told reporters in Minsk. “It is the Israel side that is to blame. Everyone knows what kind of policy the West is pursuing toward Belarus,” Lukashenko added.

Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko 2007:

“Have ever been to Bobrusk, have you ever seen what state the city is in? It was terrifying to go inside, it was such a pigstye,” Lukashenko said in a statement supporting his government’s high priority on picking up trash and cleaning city streets.

“It (Bobrusk) was a predominantly Jewish city, and you know how Jews treat the places they live. Look at Israel, I’ve been there. I don’t want to offend any one, but they (Israelis) don’t try very hard that grass is neatly cut, not like in Moscow, among the Russians, among Belarusians.”

Back in 1995, Lukashenko complained that Israel was responsible for harming the economy of Belarus by encouraging a “brain drain”; after all, Jews wishing to get out of the country couldn’t possibly be his own fault. Similarly, it didn’t occur to him during his 2000 whine about Israel being “to blame” for a lack of friendship between the two countries that this might have had something to do with his 1995 rumination that

“Not all of Hitler’s actions were bad, one can learn from his methods of governing a country.”

Anti-Semitism in Belarus was highlighted back in August, when the Simon Wiesenthal Centre noted the distribution of several virulent publications by the Orthodox Initiative. However, the Jerusalem Post notes that Lukashenko has avoided anti-Semitic rhetoric in the past, and that the latest outburst points “not to a new crusade against Belarusian Jews but to a political calculation”, reflecting the country’s increasing alliance with Iran.

Across the border, the Russian Orthodox Church has been continually supportive of Lukashenko: Patriarch Alexei II praised the dictator’s support for “Christian enlightenment and moral health of society”, and presented him with the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh “for strengthening unity of Slav peoples”. In June the Patriarch bestowed the order of St Vladimir of the First Degree.

Once again, here is one of those banned anti-Lukashenko cartoons:

 (A book-length history of Jewish Bobruisk can be found here)

Identities of Internet “Saloon-Bar Moaners” Protected

UK judge rules on “messages which are barely defamatory or little more than abusive or likely to be understood as jokes”

For bloggers in the UK, there are a number of issues concerning legal liability for comments left by readers. If a comment contains material that may be libellous, does the blogger have a responsibility to remove it, even before a complaint has been made? If so, within what timescale? What happens if a comment appears while a blogger is away on holiday – or perhaps is posted to an old blog which he or she no longer maintains? What if a blog gets so many comments that constant monitoring is impossible? And does removing a comment even help anyway, since publication for just a few seconds is still publication? Nobody really knows the answer, which is why libel law reform is such an urgent priority (in the meantime, Oliver Kamm notes the existence of a company which offers a third-party location at which comments can be hosted).

Another question is whether bloggers should comply if they receive a demand for information that might reveal a poster’s identity. A recent court ruling offers some guidance on this. Out-Law News reports:

The High Court has protected the identities of seven individuals who made comments on a football website’s message board. Comments that are “strictly defamatory” can still be so trivial that they do not warrant an invasion of the authors’ privacy rights.

[Judge Richard] Parkes said it was relevant “to consider whether the words complained of were, even if strictly defamatory, more than a trivial attack which would not be taken seriously.”

“I do not think it would be right to make an order for the disclosure of the identities of users who have posted messages which are barely defamatory or little more than abusive or likely to be understood as jokes,” he wrote. “That, it seems to me, would be disproportionate and unjustifiably intrusive.”

…Two [comments] were deemed “no more than saloon-bar moanings about the way in which the club is managed”. Another two “add to the mix a smidgeon of personal abuse of a kind which I would have thought most unlikely to be taken seriously.”

…Stefan Paciorek, a partner with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that the operator of this site did the right thing in letting the court decide whether he should reveal the names of these people or not.

Some other comments were deemed by the judge to be more serious, and so he has ordered that their authors’ details be disclosed. Interestingly, however, the claimants have not gone after the site’s operator himself, and according to the Resigster they have been obliged to pay him £9,000 to cover the costs of compliance. This is in contrast to the recent Mumsnet case, where the website owners agreed to pay childcare expert Gina Ford a five-figure sum over defamatory postings, including one that was obviously an absurd joke. This was an out-of-court settlement; the London Times noted that

Mumsnet had hoped to go to court, believing it to be a test case over freedom of speech on the internet, but felt it could not afford to risk losing.

In two other recent cases, claimants have gone on the offensive against website hosts rather than authors as a strategy to get websites pulled without having to face their critics in court. This is why Russian billionaire Alisher Uzmanov’s lawyers threatened Fasthosts rather than Craig Murray and Tim Ireland; it also appears to be why the Society of Homeopaths have targeted Netcetera rather than Dr Andy Lewis of Quackometer.

Judge Parkes’ judgement can be seen in full here.