21 September 2007

Alisher Usmanov and the “Streisand Effect”

I will freely admit that I am away with the fairies and a lot of things simply pass me by. I had originally planned to put together a humorous post (probably only to me) comparing and contrasting McGonagall’s abolitionist poem “The Demon Drink” with Flann O’Brien’s celebration of stout “The Workman’s Friend”. That is until I paid one of my regular visits to Tygerland, (Tyger being one of my favourite bloggers) and saw a post explaining why a number of websites are currently unavailable (those belonging to Craig Murray, Bob Piper, Boris Johnson and Tim Ireland). The reason for the outage is muzzling action in response to allegations made by Craig Murray (the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan turned gadfly) about Russian/Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov who has recently purchased a substantial stake in Arsenal FC.

Before going on I would strongly recommend these excellent posts at Chicken Yoghurt and Mr Eugenides

So what is this all about? On 2 September Craig Murray wrote a damning piece about Usmanov on his website (the article is still available on other sites. Do a simple search). The basic thrust of the post is that Usmanov is, allegedly, a “crook and a criminal”.

Craig Murray took apart a press release which claimed that Usmanov did not have a criminal record. Although he had been “imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime” he had been pardoned after “Mikhail Gorbachev took office”. All references to his convictions had been “expunged from police records” Essentially the release indicates that Usmanov is a fine fellow with no skeletons in his closet.

According to Murray, Usmanov served six years in prison and hat he was pardoned by Islom Karimov, the then president of the Uzbek SSR, subsequently the first (and only) president (read dictator) of Uzbekistan. While his pardon did indeed take place after Gorbachev took office it is utterly disingenuous to intimate that he had any part in the pardon. Murray claims that the pardon was ordered because of Karimov’s alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Gafur Rakhimov, a mafia boss and drug trafficker. The allegations about Rakhimov’s criminal activities appear to be widespread. Interestingly, he was barred from entering Australia for the Sydney Olympics despite being an official of the Uzbek national team.

The allegations continue and if they are even partially true, Usmanov is not a fit person even to run a bath. If they can be substantiated then he should be barred from the UK forthwith.

At present Usmanov does not seem to have commenced libel proceedings against Craig Murray. On 8 September the Times reported that Usmanov’s lawyers were “forced to write” to the internet service provider which hosts Murray’s website demanding that it take down the. In a letter Murray was described as having “an axe to grind” and that he had made “a number of grossly defamatory and completely unsubstantiated allegations about our client in his book Murder in Samarkand and on his website.” It goes on to say that they had “been forced to issue a takedown notice against Murray’s ISP

In response Murray said that he had not been approached by the lawyers but that he rather hoped. “Usmanov’s hyperactive and expensive lawyers will sue me for libel"

On 12 September the Guardian reported that his lawyers Shills, sorry Shysters, Hang I’ve got it – Schillings (the amount they would sell their grannies down the river for I suppose) had been in touch with several independent Arsenal supporters' websites and blogs warning them to remove postings referring to allegations made against him by Murray. From a quick trawl of sites earlier it seems that Schillings’ approach had been unsuccessful.

Yesterday, Murray’s ISP took down his site. Actually they seem to have taken down the whole server which is why the other sites have vanished too. The likes of Bob Piper and Boris Johnson are suffering from “collateral damage”. While no lover of Bullingdon Boris the shut down cannot come at a worse time for him given that he is a front runner in the race to become the Tory candidate in next year’s London mayoral race. The ISP’s approach is spineless and I hope the victims of this "collateral damage" have a case for legal action against them.

If Usmanov thought that muzzling Murray would put an end to this story he is most definitely wrong. All it seems to have done is fan the flames: quite a lot of people have already posted pieces on this ridiculous event and it is likely that more and more will do so. Iain Dale, who has no cause to love Tim Ireland, has spoken out in his defence .I hope that the story will make it into the press, causing Usmanov and his legal lackeys substantial embarrassment. Meanwhile, Labour MP Tom Watson has stated that he will be raising the matter of Usmanov’s Arsenal bid with colleagues.

Usmanov chose not to take Murray to court even though our libel laws are ridiculously biased in favour of the plaintiff. He has taken no action against his book Murder in Samarkand which is still freely available despite claiming that it containing “defamatory” statements about him. It is high time the UK came kicking and screaming into the 19th century by having our own version of the American First Amendment. While this will protect some unsavoury characters it would guarantee our freedom of speech and provide at least some protection against (allegedly) criminal oligarchs.

What is the Streisand Effect? This comes from a post on this tawdry tale by sports writer David Warner (I can thank Mr Eugenides for the link to his post). It relates to Streisand's ridiculous 2003 lawsuit against a photographer who had taken an aerial picture of her Malibu home. The photo was taken as part of a publicly funded coastline erosion study and her home was not labelled. Within days the photos of her house were all over the web! With any luck Usmanov and his amoral shysters will get a taste of the same medicine.

Finally Sinclairs Musings (Hat tip to Tyger for the link) has an excellent post which starts "We are all bloggerheads now". When he says that "it's a big issue that can only be addressed by a collective refusal to be cowed" I agree wholeheartedly. Perhaps we all should stand up and say Ich bin ein bloggerhead...

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