Her Highness Sheikha Mouza Al Misnad, the wife of the Emir of the State of Qatar, has won £500,000 in damages from UK-based Arabic daily newspaper Azzaman.
The claim arose out of no fewer than four articles containing untrue and extremely serious allegations concerning the Sheikha. Under the settlement Azzaman joined in the reading of a statement in open court, published a front-page appology and undertook never to publish the allegations in the future. Azzaman also paid substantial damages to Sheikha, which are to be donated to charity.
Statement in Open Court
Her Highness Sheika Mouza Bint Nasser Al Misnad and (1) Azzaman Limited (2) Saad Abdul Salam Al-Bazzaz
Claimant’s Solicitor My Lord, in this action I appear for the Claimant, Her Highness Sheikha Mouza Bint Nasser Al Misnad.
Her Highness the Sheikha is the wife of the Emir of Qatar, his Highness Sheikh Hamed Bin Khalifa Al Thani. She is also the mother of the Crown Prince of Qatar.
My friend Louise Lanzkron appears for the Defendants. The First Defendant is a company registered in the United Kingdom which, during the period which is relevant to these proceedings, published an Arabic language daily newspaper called Azzaman. The Second Defendant, Saad Abdul Salam Al-Bazzaz is the Editor-in-Chief of Azzaman and the Director of the First Defendant.
Azzaman has a substantial circulation and readership both in the jurisdiction and worldwide among Arabic speakers. It is also published on the world-wide web.
In June and July 2001 the Defendants published four articles in the pages of Azzaman (with each also being published on the Azzaman website) which contained a number of highly defamatory and entirely untruthful allegations concerning Her Highness the Sheikha, as follows.
On the front page of the edition of Azzaman for 26 June 2001, the Defendants published an article under the headline “SHEIKHA MOZA IS ANGERED BY THE “RUMOURS” SITE AND ORDERS THE IMPRISONMENT OF THE OWNER”.
This article was highly defamatory of Her Highness the Sheikha, falsely alleging, as it did, that she had acted grossly improperly, unconstitutionally and indeed unlawfully in a number of respects.
In particular the article alleged that Her Highness had wrongfully and for her own benefit interfered in Qatar’s administrative and judicial processes by personally ordering and procuring the arrest, and imprisonment for two years, of a Mr Louay Abdullah, as well as the arrest, and subsequent detention for three years without trial, of a prominent Qatari named Abdel-Rahman Al Nuaimi.
The article also alleged that, in a clear abuse of her position and of the law, Her Highness habitually gave orders directly to ministers and officials in the security services, who would implement those orders immediately, including by arresting members of the opposition.
Furthermore, the article alleged that Her Highness had brought pressure to bear on Qatar’s media, and that she had coerced Qatari newspapers as well as the Al Jazeera satellite television channel (which is of course based in Qatar) to maintain silence about the case of Mr Abdullah.
Subsequently, on the front page of the issue of Azzaman for 10 July 2001, the Defendants published a further article under the headline “QATARI OPPOSITION ACCUSES SHEIKHA MOZA OF RUNNING COMMERCIAL RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL”.
In this article the Defendants repeated their false allegation that Her Highness had personally ordered and procured the arrest and imprisonment without trial of Mr Louay Abdullah, together with the untrue allegations that Her Highness controls part of Qatar’s “internal political network” and that she habitually interrogates ministers and senior officials there and interferes in their official functions.
In addition, the 10 July 2001 article contained further allegations which untruthfully sought to suggest that Her Highness was or had been engaging in what were, at best, extremely dubious, and possibly illegal, business activities by agreeing to provide a front to disguise the activities of Israeli businesses operating in capitals in the Gulf states.
On 12 July 2001, the Defendants published a yet further article in Azzaman, by way of an editorial under a headline which read “THE TERMITE OF PARASITIC INFLUENCE BORES INTO QATARI POLITICS – SUBVERSION OF THE LAW BY THE PRIVILEGES OF FAMILY TIES OF THE RULER”.
This editorial contained a number of false and highly defamatory allegations concerning Her Highness the Sheikha, alleging not only that she had subverted the law of Qatar, but that she had also placed the nation itself in danger, by exercising, in all areas of government and politics, an unconstitutional and parasitic authority parallel to the properly constituted government.
The editorial further alleged that the imprisonment of Mr Al-Nuaimi was just one of many examples of Her Highness’s abuse of power. Another example, it alleged, was Her Highness’s contempt for the national feelings of the people of Qatar and of its customs, as demonstrated by her supposed communications, in secret, with certain Israelis and with the wives of Israeli security and diplomatic officials. Again, it was also alleged that Her Highness interrogated Qatari ministers and senior officials and interfered in their official business.
Finally, on the front page of the edition of Azzaman for 17 July 2001, the Defendants published an article under the headlines “SHEIKHA MOUZA OVERSEES THE POLITICAL MEETINGS WITH THE ISRAELIS” and “ARAB STATES THREATEN TO BOYCOTT THE DOHA CONFERENCE.”
This article was again highly defamatory of Her Highness the Sheikha, falsely alleging, as it did, that she had acted in an anti-Arab manner by initiating a number of political and other communications with Israeli officials, in the face of widespread opposition in the Arab world to Israel’s participation in the forthcoming World Trade Organisation Conference which was to take place in Doha, the capital of Qatar. This final article also repeated the allegation that Her Highness had acted in an underhand and disreputable manner by sponsoring disguised Israeli companies.
As the Defendants now acknowledge, every one of the allegations referred to in these four articles was, without exception, entirely untrue.
Specifically, Her Highness the Sheikha played no part whatsoever in the arrest and detention of either Mr Abdullah or Mr Al Nuaimi. Indeed, in the case of Mr Abdullah, she had never even heard of that gentleman until she learned of his detention through the media.
On the wider allegations published by the Defendants, there was, and remains (as the Defendants now acknowledge) no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that Her Highness has ever given orders to, or in any way whatsoever influenced, Qatari ministers or other officials (whether in the security services or otherwise), or in the allegation that she has, for her own or anyone else’s benefit, abused her position as well as the law and constitution of Qatar. On the contrary, Her Highness the Sheikha has complete respect for her constitutional position within Qatar and for the laws of that country and she has never – and would never – seek to influence its government or the due administration of justice. Still less has Her Highness ever (as the articles sought to allege) improperly exercised or sought to exercise an unconstitutional or “parasitic” authority parallel to that of the government of Qatar. Her Highness has also never sought to coerce or exercise any other improper influence over Al Jazeera or over other elements of the media, whether in Qatar or elsewhere.
Furthermore, as the Defendants now recognise, there was and remains no truth whatsoever in the allegation that Her Highness the Sheikha has ever engaged in any form of activity involving Israeli companies (whether disguised or otherwise) or in contacts with individual Israelis, or that she has conducted herself in an anti-Arab or anti-Qatari manner – whether in relation to Israeli participation at the 2001 World Trade Organisation conference in Doha or at any other time.
The Defendants now wholly accept and recognise that the allegations contained in their articles were simply not true. In recognition of this fact, they have agreed to join in making this Statement in Open Court, and to undertake not to repeat the seriously defamatory allegations contained in the articles, or any similar allegations concerning Her Highness. They have agreed to publish a full apology in the pages of Azzaman and on its website, and have also agreed to pay Her Highness a substantial sum in damages (which Her Highness has indicated will be donated to charity). The Defendants have also agreed to pay Her Highness’s legal costs of bringing these proceedings.
Counsel for the Defendants
My Lord, on behalf of the publisher of the Azzaman newspaper and of the Second Defendant I accept everything my friend has said. In particular, the Defendants now wish to make it clear that the allegations contained in the articles complained of were entirely false. They wish also to offer their sincerest apologies to Her Highness the Sheikha for the damage, distress and embarrassment which the publication of the articles has undoubtedly caused her.
Solicitor for the Claimant
My Lord, in the circumstances, Her Highness the Sheikha’s object in bringing these proceedings has been achieved and she is therefore content to let matters rest.
(Solicitors for the Claimant)
(Solicitors for the Defendants)