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UK: Tory peer pays damages after accusing Muslim TV quiz contestant of antisemitism

Melika Gorgianeh took legal action after she received death threats following Jacqueline Foster's false claim that an octopus cuddly toy used as a mascot on the show was an antisemitic symbol
Gorgianeh welcomed the outcome and said Foster's comments had a 'profound and deeply damaging impact' on her life (Supplied)

A Muslim woman who appeared on a popular UK quiz show has won substantial damages and an apology from a Conservative peer who falsely accused her of antisemitism

Melika Gorgianeh received death threats and abuse after Baroness Jacqueline Foster claimed on social media platform X that the second-year PhD student at Oxford University displayed an antisemitic symbol during her appearance on University Challenge. 

The symbol in question was an octopus cuddly toy used as Gorgianeh's team mascot during the show aired in November 2023.

The Tory peer singled out Gorgianeh, who wears a headscarf,  in a deleted post, which also claimed she was wearing the colours of the Palestinian flag during the appearance, which was filmed in March 2023. 

Social media users noted that Gorgianeh wore a coat from Zara that was navy blue, orange, pink and green - not the Palestinian flag's black, red and white. 

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After Foster made the comments targeting the Oxford student, right-wing digital trolls began a targeted campaign of harassment against Gorgianeh.

In October, climate activist Greta Thunberg was similarly accused of antisemitism after she shared a photo in solidarity with Gaza, which featured an octopus toy.

'Grave mistake'

Foster later deleted her tweets and apologised to Gorgianeh. In a new post on X on Wednesday, Foster repeated her apology and said she had paid "substantial damages and costs" to Gorgianeh. 

'Nobody should ever have to feel how I felt or go through what I went through. Words have consequences'

- Melika Gorgianeh

“Following my public apology on X on 30 November 2023 and my private apology by personal letter on 1 December 2023, I wish to apologise to Ms Gorgianeh for my part in posts made about her on X on the 20 November 2023 following the airing of @BBC’s University Challenge programme," Foster said on Wednesday morning. 

“I wrongly alleged that Ms Gorgianeh chose one of the most disgusting antisemitic symbols, a blue octopus, as her team’s mascot which I held her responsible for. I accept that these allegations were completely false and unfounded. I made a grave mistake in making those posts and I should not have done so.

“I again deeply apologise to Ms Gorgianeh for these allegations and any distress caused to her. We have since reached an amicable resolution. I do hope this goes some way in mitigating what has been a most distressing time for her. I have agreed to pay her substantial damages and costs.”

Gorgianeh welcomed the outcome and said Foster's comments had a "profound and deeply damaging impact" on her life. 

"Baroness Foster’s posts, and the posts of others who are yet to be held to account, affected both myself and my family. I felt unsafe to even leave my house," said Gorgianeh.  

"Nobody should ever have to feel how I felt or go through what I went through. Words have consequences. And now, through her apology, Baroness Fosters’ words begin to have the consequence of healing the very real damage that had been done to me.

"This vindication would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the continued efforts of my exceptional legal team at Rahman Lowe, especially Zillur Rahman, who went above and beyond in helping me. I’m extremely grateful for all their support and hard work.”

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