This appeared on the Channel 4 News website yesterday:
As Roman Abramovich gets his man at Chelsea, another Russian oligarch is making waves at Arsenal.
Alisher Usmanov, who this week increased his stake in Arsenal to 21 per cent, has taken exception to some of the fans’ websites repeating allegations first aired by the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. Now his legal moves have sparked a revolt in the blogosphere.
Alisher Usmanov was jailed under the old Soviet regime for corruption. He says this was politically motivated – and that he was a political prisoner who was then freed and granted a full pardon once Mikhail Gorbachev came to power as president.
The lawyers’ letters began flying a couple of weeks ago. What started it was, according to his lawyers, “false, indefensible and grossly defamatory” allegations against Mr Usmanov on the website of outspoken former ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray.
Mr Usmanov’s lawyers wrote to Murray and to his internet service provider asking them to remove the allegations.
Former Uzbekistan ambassador Craig Murray has found some unlikely allies from across the political spectrum.
Murray refused and, facing the threat of a libel suit, his internet service provider took down his website.
Lawyers’ letters also started landing in the inboxes of people who had linked to Murray’s site – in particular, Arsenal fan websites.
Facing the threat of being shut down, they removed the links.
If Usmanov thought that was the end of it, it wasn’t.
Over the last 24 hours it’s become an internet cause celebre. Craig Murray has found some highly unlikely allies from across the political spectrum.
Over 100 high-profile bloggers have now posted on it and, as we found, some are brazenly posting the original Craig Murray article that started this all off.
I don’t know if I’m one of the “high profile bloggers” he’s talking about but I am proud to have taken part in this and in posting the original article that Usmanov has been trying so hard to censor. This isn’t because I get some peverse kick out of fisking people in the public eye (although I must admit I do enjoy it from time to time 😉 ) or because I think it’s “cool” to do this sort of thing. Craig Murray’s book which contains all the accusations Usmanov is trying to censor from the blogosphere now has been out for over a year now and despite begging him to sue him for libel, Murray has yet to receive a summons to defend his claims. Instead, Usmanov has hired thugs in suits to intimidate bloggers and web hosting companies into censoring criticism of him. Craig Murray’s hosts – Fast Host – even went as far as editing a post on his blog to remove something he said and replace it with their own comment saying that lots of people disagree with his claims!
The long and short of it is, Usmanov has had over a year to challenge what his rotweillers claim to be libellous comments but has chosen not to do so. Judging by the effort he is putting into bullying people who will struggle to defend themselves, he clearly wants to stop the accusations from being publicly available but the fact he has failed to do so through the courts means the only reasonable conclusion to come to is that the comments are – at least partially – true.
We bloggers are in the fortunate position that we are not subject to the censorship of editors or shareholders but it doesn’t mean that there is nobody out there trying to stop us saying what we want. I have been threatened with legal action over things I’ve written in the past. Usually they threaten me with slander which is when it’s spoken, not written down – always a good indication that the “lawyer” they’ve spoken to has an office somewhere between their ears. But I’ve always written what I believe to be true and if I’ve got the information third hand then I say so – an example of how good netiquette can also save you from getting yourself sued.
Bloggers have a responsibility not to abuse the privelleged position they are in. Some people don’t have the same right to free speech that we do in the civillised world. But we must also protect that privelleged position – today it’s a Russian/Uzbekh (alleged) criminal, tomorrow it could be the government that are trying to stop you from criticising them.