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Founder of UK's Islam Channel awarded £140,000 after pro-Israel group libel

Mohamed Ali Harrath, a former member of the Tunisian Islamic Front, was awarded damages after Stand For Peace branded him a 'terrorist'
Mohamed Ali Harrath in the offices of the Islam Channel in London (BBC)

The High Court has ordered a pro-Israel organisation to pay £140,000 ($174,000) in damages to the founder of the Islam Channel after it wrongfully labelled him a “convicted terrorist”.   

In a landmark ruling, Sir David Eady of the High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division, awarded Mohamed Ali Harrath, the CEO of the London-based TV station, a six-figure payout on Thursday in his defamation case against Stand for Peace and its spokesman Samuel Westrop.

“I am delighted by this result and I would like to thank the Judge, and the High Court, for its rigorous review of the evidence and its conclusions that the allegation against me was completely unfounded," Harrath said in a statement on Friday.

"I hope that in future any media or other entity that chooses to comment about me will take careful note of Sir David Eady’s observations. Mr Westrop and Stand for Peace had previously lauded themselves as experts on subjects of this kind and had been cited widely in the mainstream media.

"Yet, when it came to trying to excuse his conduct in publishing this grave libel, it became clear that the research that Mr Westrop had undertaken had been wholly inadequate and he tried to explain himself on the basis that he was “self-taught” rather than a professional journalist. The Court clearly had little sympathy for such excuses.”

Stand For Peace, which describes itself as a “Jewish-Muslim interfaith organisation”, has launched a stream of scathing attacks against Muslims over the last few years on its website, many of them well-known Islamic charities and other prominent figures.

It comes less than two months after Middle East Eye’s investigation into smears against Islamic charities and prominent British Muslim figures by the right-wing press, including Stand for Peace. It uncovered a string of unsubstantiated slurs against Muslim organisations sourced from agenda-driven and speculative outlets that have been recycled by the mainstream media.

Judge Eady said a wrongful allegation of terrorism would attract a large payout “since few if any allegations could be more serious”.

“Here, as almost always, they carry the imputation that the person so accused is prepared to take part in or to encourage indiscriminate murder,” he said.

As a result of the slur, Harrath’s reputation had been damaged and he’d suffered “embarrassment and hurt feelings and for the purpose of vindicating his reputation”.

The ruling reserved a stinging rebuke for Westrop and his former lawyers, Seddons, criticising their decision to mount a defence of truth for a terrorism charge when there was no evidence to support it. It said Seddons’ correspondence to Harrath in letters had been "unnecessarily combative, dismissive and aggressive”.

“The complaint was described, for example, as 'ludicrous', 'utterly misconceived' and 'doomed to fail'," Judge Eady said. 

Harrath sued Stand for Peace in the High Court last year for defamation because it ran a story in late 2014 calling him a “convicted terrorist”, a claim he always maintained was false and libelous.

Stand for Peace relied on two principal sources for its claim: a blog in French on a website called reveiltunisien.org, and a Red Notice Interpol alert about Harrath.

Stand for Peace claimed that Harrath, in June 2005, was sentenced in absentia to 56 years imprisonment by a Tunisian court for being a member of a terrorist organisation and for terror-related offences.

Harrath was politically active in Tunisia in the 1980s and 1990s and was a member of the Tunisian Islamic Front (TIF). 

As a dissident under the Ben Ali regime, he was tortured and imprisoned in the 1980s and 1990s, before fleeing to London in 1995 as a refugee. In a politically motivated move, Tunisian authorities added him in 1992 to Interpol’s Red Notice list, a database of suspected international terrorists and criminals.

Stand for Peace, a limited company, and Westrop, are reported to have no assets and therefore cannot pay costs or damages. Westrop is living in the US, his lawyers said last summer.

Westrop is linked with, or writes for, a number of other organisations similar to Stand for Peace with a record of criticising Islamic organisations, such as the Gatestone Institute.

He was quoted by the Jewish Telegraph newspaper in 2011 after a trip to the Middle East, saying: “I did not find the Arabs romantic. I found them interestingly hostile. A mentality of very irrational hatred was evident everywhere, venom regurgitated by government propaganda.”

One organisation to suffer at the hands of Stand for Peace and Westrop is the Muslim Charities Forum. A speculative story the website ran in September 2014 accused its members of having links to the Union of Good, an umbrella organisation in Saudi Arabia that was designated by the US in 2008 as a supporter of terrorism.

The story was picked up by the Daily Telegraph newspaper the next day which eventually led to the Muslim Charities Forum having a £250,000 grant for interfaith work cut by the government.