Imran Khan subjected to defamatory attacks on social media: Are people losing touch with reality?

(First published 30.9.2013)

Libel: A published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation


Over the last few days an extraordinary amount of venomous comments have been hurled at Pakistan, Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan following two terrible bombings in Peshawar. What is concerning is that when examined many of these remarks could be labelled as libel, a deliberate attempt to defame a person’s character.

Let’s look at some facts… So far not one person has been able to show me a PTI, Imran Khan statement where he or a party member says the party “support” the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) despite multiple claims to this on social media networks. What Khan and PTI clearly state is that they “support dialogue” in an effort to end violence, a decision agreed by other political parties at the All Parties Conference (APC) in Pakistan. One could argue that had other parties listened to Khan earlier regarding talks with Taliban, some previous attacks might have been prevented.

Last Friday an article appeared in DAWN entitled “Sharif defends talks with Taliban, seeks end to drone strikes” interestingly Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif did not attract the same poisonous comments which seem to be reserved only for Imran. Why are certain elements wanting him to fail?

The attacks on civilians at a church and local market are horrific and must be condemned in the strongest terms with every effort made to find the culprits. What is disturbing however is that some people seem less worried about the impact on the victims and more focused on vilifying Khan. Imran’s accusers also appear totally disinterested in finding out who was actually behind the last two Peshawar blasts, so it has to be asked, what are their motives for such diatribe?

I have watched numerous press reports, national and international on Peshawar bombings in recent days that have named Taliban as responsible for these attacks while failing to include their denial statements. Surely they must be included otherwise the public are being given only half a picture which could be inaccurate. Past history has shown that TTP have no hesitation in claiming their victims so why deny now? Responsible reporting is very important and the public may form a decision on whether or not to support dialogue based on these media reports.

I am reminded of several violent incidents in Afghanistan where certain attacks were initially blamed on Taliban. A number of us queried who was responsible when vehement denials were issued by Islamic Emirate. This was happening at a time when there were proposals for a Taliban office in Qatar and hope of talks appeared in the press. What we should be asking ourselves now is who would wish to sabotage dialogue in Pakistan? Again Imran Khan has rightly highlighted this concern.

All efforts must be made to identify those carrying out recent bombings as stated by Imran Khan and take whatever action is possible to protect the population. There is however no such thing as absolute security, any security analyst will tell you that. The reality is if terrorists are determined to attack they will go all out to breach the tightest of security whatever measures are put in place.

In the last two days there have also been further drone attacks on the Tribal Areas which given the Peshawar bombings, is adding fuel to an already raging fire. US and its allies are refusing to address retaliation attacks, those claimed by militant groups to be in direct response to drones. These include the killing of mountaineers at Nanga Parbat and the Peshawar Church bombing. No attack on civilians can ever be justified. The sensible approach is to go all out to end drone strikes, such as engaging the UN in support and take away militants using drone strikes as a reason to perpetrate violence.

When we consider drone victims there is a strong case for arguing that those killed in retaliation attacks must be included in official figures which would raise the number of victims considerably.  I am so concerned at this burying of heads in the sand on this issue that I felt compelled to write to the UN rapporteur Ben Emmerson who is investigating drone strikes to take up this matter. The US and allies given this information on revenge attacks are knowingly inciting terrorism and if an individual did this there would be severe legal consequences.

It is important to keep in mind that drones are weapons of mass division causing splits even within the armed forces. Such divisions are dangerous and can be exploited for deadly purposes.

There are so many double standards. Imran Khan who works for peace is ostracised while others get away with extra-judicial killings. On social media, the accounts of militant groups are shut down while states that terrorise are free to express themselves through political accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Defamatory statements must be challenged and reported as such to those operating social media sites. Although it may be difficult to take such cases forward within certain countries (see article by Zafat and Associates law firm on libel in Pakistan, ) there have already been cases taken up from cyberspace. I suggest people think twice before making libelous remarks and read up on Twitter law

Please note the following for starters on a UK case:-

If a tweet or blog post is defamatory, untrue and cannot be defended, the maker of the statement can be liable for defamation and for substantial damages.  As Lord McAlpine’s actions demonstrate, formal legal consequences may well follow.  When individuals post material online, they act as publishers and their publications are subject to the same laws and are as legally responsible as those of professional publishers, such as newspapers or broadcasters.

It is worth noting England’s first libel case involving Twitter,

New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns was awarded £90,000 in damages after he was wrongly accused of match-fixing by Lalit Modi on Twitter, the former chairman of the Indian Premier League.

I wonder if in future we could see a former cricketer taking up a libel case against misguided attackers, now that would be worth reporting on Twitter!

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.

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