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UK court declares activist bankrupt after losing case against Geo/Jang

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A general view shows the High Court in London, Britain March 27, 2023. — Reuters
A general view shows the High Court in London, Britain March 27, 2023. — Reuters

LONDON: Pashtun nationalist activist Shah Muhammad has been declared bankrupt by a court in the United Kingdom after he failed to pay the legal costs of around £20,000 (Rs7.3 million) and lost the defamation suit to Geo TV and Daily  Jang and this correspondent.

A UK high court ordered Shah Muhammad, who also calls himself Shah Mehmud, to pay around £20,000 to Geo and Jang in March this year after he lost a defamation case against the aforementioned entities, and instead gave excuses for not being able to pay the money.

District Judge Revere at the Country Court at Central London told Shah Muhammad last week during a bankruptcy hearing brought by Geo lawyers that he was going to enter a bankruptcy order against him for failing to comply with the court order.

District Judge Revere said: “It is ordered that Shah Muhammad of Dangola Road, London, E13 0AZ, occupation unknown, be adduced bankrupt.”

Shah Muhammad told the judge he owed a total amount of over £20,000 but he could pay only £10 a month. The judge refused permission and declared that he was bankrupt. The bankruptcy will stay on his record for one year.

Shah Muhammad lost to Geo after initiating a futile claim over a report by this correspondent about a protest by Afghan protestors outside the Pakistan High Commission in London in May 2021.

Hundreds of protestors had taken part in the protest which had spiralled out of control with some individuals turning violent, pelting stones and throwing water bottles at the Pakistan High Commission building. In the process, this reporter and the Geo News cameraman Naseer Ahmed were assaulted during the protest which was held soon after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the removal of President Ghani’s government.

Shah Muhammad, who described himself as a human rights activist and journalist, had falsely claimed that he was defamed in the report because he alleged he was named as one of the alleged organisers of the protest. In addition, he alleged that the words in the report meant by way of innuendo that he was a terrorist and tried to rely on the definition of Enemy Agent in accordance with The Enemy Agents Ordinance 1943, and terrorism in accordance with Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act 1967 and the UK Terrorism Act 2000.

In reality, the report published in The News, Jang and Geo’s websites did not refer to Shah Muhammad at all. The report mentioned a “Shah Mahmud Khan” who was not the claimant Shah Muhammad. Shah Mahmud Khan raised no issue about the report but Shah Muhammad claimed to the court that some friends also called him Shah Mahmud Khan, therefore, he was defamed. The reporter told the court that this was a false claim and had no foundation in truth.

At the hearing before the London High Court, the defendants’ lawyers successfully argued that Shah Muhammad’s Claim Form be set aside and the case did not proceed for various reasons including relying on Section 10 of the Defamation Act 2013. The Judge, Master David Cook agreed and threw out the claim. The judge ordered that Shah Muhammad must pay full legal costs of around £20,000, inclusive of VAT.

While delivering the judgment, the judge told Shah Muhammad that there was a dispute as to whether he was actually named in the article and that he had stretched the meaning of the Article to claim he was called a “terrorist” when there was no such allegation in the publications anywhere.

Shah Muhammad had sought the right to appeal but the judge refused permission.

Shah Muhammad described himself as a human rights activist and a journalist who hosts a show on Facebook and YouTube. He has been associated with Pashtun nationalist and human rights groups including Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement and Pakhtoonkwa Milli Awami Party but none of these groups had anything to do with this defamation claim.

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