Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 21/09/07

An Equation Of Thuggery

Right, pay attention, class!

Consider the following equation:

a + b = c

If I now tell you that a stands for a crooked and thuggish Uzbek oligarch, and b stands for a firm of shysters in London, then what is c?

If you get the answer that c = censorship, award yourself a gold star.

The oligarch is a man called Alisher Usmanov. His current claims to attention are that a) he is bidding to take over Arsenal Football Club, and b) he has just paid more than £20million for the art collection of the late Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovitch.

However, there are other things for which the dear chap is known. And he would very much prefer that as few people get to hear about them as possible.

Like his criminal convictions for fraud and tax-dodging, for example; or his close alliance with the infamous dissident-boiling and democrat-torturing Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov (a man so thoroughly evil that even the Bush régime has been forced to distance itself from their former ally), for another.

These facts (not merely allegations, note: the truth is out there) have been revealed by a number of sources, not least of whom is Craig Murray who, as former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, is in a better position than most to comment.

And comment he has, on his own website and elsewhere. This has led to Usmanov getting a high-fee firm of London libel lawyers called Schillings to send threatening letters hither and yon (including to websites run by Arsenal fans) ordering them (ordering them, if you please!) to remove any material which they deem defamatory to their latest meal-ticket.

Many have been forced by circumstances to comply with Schillings' threat. Craig Murray, however, is made of sterner stuff. He contacted Schillings to give them the address of his own lawyer, inviting them to send any writ for defamation to them, so he could have his day in court.

Schillings, surprisingly for a firm who seemed to be so sure of their ground, did not do this. Instead, they sent a threatening letter to Fasthosts, the company which hosts Craig Murray's website, demanding that the 'defamatory' material be removed.

To their eternal disgrace, Fasthosts complied immediately, and at the time of writing, Craig Murray's website remains missing, believed wiped.

I'll stress again: Schillings merely claim that the material is defamatory; they have made no attempt to bring any actual court cases against the people who have made the allegations against Usmanov. That Fasthosts should have pulled the plug after nothing more than a steaming pile of horse-shit from these shysters indicates that a) Fasthosts are cowards who should not be allowed to host anything more controversial than a knitting circle, and b) the libel laws in this country are a complete and utter mess which need urgent, radical reform.

If you go to Fasthosts' website (and I can't say I'd see the point anymore), you'll find a press release from late July entitled "Fasthosts keeps websites online amidst severe weather". I don't suppose they'll now issue one called "Fasthosts pull websites on orders of bullshitting lawyers".

It isn't just Craig Murray's website which has gone, either. Other political websites have been 'disappeared' by Fasthosts, seemingly on the grounds that they were hosted on the same server and had the same site administrator as Murray's (and Tim Ireland's Bloggerheads site, which was also the subject of Usmanov/Schillings' attentions). Among them is the home site of the Tory MP and London mayoral candidate Boris Johnson. All gone.

Schillings had earlier sent the same sort of threats to a number of major press and broadcast news organisations in the UK, threatening them with action if they dared annoy their paymaster. To their immense discredit, too, those thrusting organs of public enquiry all went limp, which is why you will not see any coverage of Usmanov's criminality in a British newspaper or on radio or television.

I'm delighted to report, however, that the 'blogosphere' (and a rectal rocket for the person who dreamed that word up!) has reacted with great speed, aplomb and vehemence. Usmanov quite clearly understands no more about 'freedom' than he does about 'business ethics', and calling in the briefs to engage in a dick-waving exercise on his behalf is almost certain to leave him grabbed by the short hairs. There is no way he would be able to take libel action, because then all of the facts about his conduct would be dragged out in a court case where he would be under oath to tell the truth.

Wedges can have very thin ends indeed. The way that bloggers from all parts of the political/ideological spectrum are standing together on this issue is, to say the least, encouraging.

This Judge is happy to join the effort, in whatever small way he can. So, I can tell you that a copy of the main article which has got Usmanov steaming can (for the time being at least) be found hereAn arrow to click on to take you to a follow-up item