Usmanov, Murray, Freedom and Responsibility

Until earlier this week I had never heard of either Craig Murray or Alisher Usmanov.

Like most bloggers I now know that Mr Murray is the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and that Mr Usmanov is an Uzbek millionaire, with an interest in Arsenal Football Club, who has forced a blog host to shut down because of comments made on Mr Murray's blog claiming that Usmanov is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist.

Mr Usmanov, on the other hand, whilst accepting that he was imprisoned for various "crimes" in the former USSR, claims that the charges were false and that his imprisonment was politically motivated.

As I had never heard of either man earlier than this week, I can't comment on the validity of either the accusation or the defence. However, the issue does raise a number of important points about blogging and libel.

As a blogger I have sympathy with other bloggers who have been censored, especially those, such as Boris Johnson, who have been caught in the crossfire. If, on the other hand, Mr Usmanov is innocent of the accusations made against him by Murray then I can fully understand his anger and the reason for his actions.

Most bloggers have taken the side of Mr Murray, for understandable reasons. The fact that a billionaire can use his wealth and power to hammer a blog and a blog host is, without doubt, a blow against freedom of speech. But, Craig Murray has also abused the blogosphere. Murray has made no secret of the fact that he wants Usmanov to sue him, and has used his blog to goad Usmanov into doing so. Because a blog host, as the publisher of libellous material, can be implicated in any libel case Mr Murray was wrong to drag his host into his personal campaign against Usmanov and the Uzbek government and was wrong to put other bloggers sites at risk by doing so.

The easy answer to the problem might be to make web hosts immune from prosecution in such cases and let the likes of Craig Murray and Alisher Usmanov fight their own battles without being able to drag an "innocent" third party into their fight.

That might be the answer where those involved are two very influential people, but what happens when the parties involved live lower down the food chain?

What happens if I post a blog making an unfounded accusations that a neighbour is a paedophile, but that neighbour couldn't afford to sue me and / or I'm not worth suing? My host has to be responsible for making sure that I can't get away with it. My neighbour must have a means of redress that doesn't involve the time, costs and hassle of civil legal action.

On the other hand how can a line be drawn between being allowed to say that a prime minister or president is an useless tosser who isn't fit to hold his / her position and saying something similar about the holder of any other post, a headmaster or a shop assistant for example? And if an influential billionaire really is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist how do we protect the right of an individual to expose him for what he is?


  1. I see your point about responsibility and libel. However, having heard Craig Murray speak, having read his book and having followed his actions, which included giving up his career and a high income in order to speak out against torture and human rights abuses, I'll trust him on this one. He's one of the few western experts on Uzbekistan and, as British ambassador there, had detailed knowledge of what was going on. I recommend his book Murder in Samarkand. I would recommend his website, which reflected on many more relevant and important topics, but it's been taken down.

  2. Oliver Kamm, a bogger who I respect, had this to say about Murray:

    "I apologise to my readers for having described this man as an embittered and ludicrous crank. I can't shake off this inherently British habit of understatement, you see."

  3. BLOGS, are a means to allow INDIVIDUALS to say what they think, and as such are not responsible.

    I agree that certain content might be seen as inappropriate however the process of selecting your BLOG categorizes the content it may contain.
    In this way the supplier has taken ADEQUATE responsibility and is therefore not libel + if the writers actually read the small print it actually states as much.

    That said, I feel and maintain that anyone who tries to defend against a libel suite is by the very nature guilty. Those who just ignore the comments are innocent. Plus they are ‘GROWN UP’.

    For the most part and for what it is worth, I feel the company involved, the one who has been shut down, should have the right to question the logic and have the instigator Usmanov prove that the action was necessary and to compensate the innocent blogging site for the inconvenience.

    One of two thing can come from this Usmanov HAS started a 'Precedent' IF this case is ignored he has given us the blogger the right to continue as we wish.
    IF the case comes to court and is won by Craig Murray or the blogging Co WE WIN again.
    If he wins the INTERNET is GONE.
    The news will be spread all over the globe and the people WILL revolt.

    He truly is 'between a FIRE and a HARDPLACE'
    DAMNED THAT HE HAS DONE and DAMNED IF he continues.
    WELL DONE Usmanov.

    A BIG LOL all round LOL