Sunday Telegraph pays damages to mosque chief over Corbyn article

Story falsely portrayed Mohammed Kozbar as supporter of violent extremism in attempt to criticise Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

The Sunday Telegraph has paid “substantial damages” to the general secretary of Finsbury Park mosque after it falsely portrayed him as a supporter of violent lslamist extremism as part of a botched attempt to criticise the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

In March 2016 the newspaper published an article headlined: “Corbyn and the mosque leader who blames the UK for Isil.” The story tried to connect the Labour leader to extremist views allegedly held by Mohammed Kozbar, who runs the mosque in Corbyn’s Islington North constituency and is also vice-chair of the Muslim Association of Britain.

Kozbar successfully argued that the article was defamatory and the Sunday Telegraph has now removed the article from its website, published a ruling accepting the article was defamatory, and paid damages understood to be in the region of £30,000 to settle the case. This does not include the newspaper’s costs.

“It was not just myself who was the target of this article, it was Jeremy Corbyn,” said Kozbar after the verdict. “The aim was to damage the reputation of Jeremy and make his progress with the Labour party more difficult.”

The piece, by the journalist Andrew Gilligan, claimed the mosque administrator supported the use of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict and blamed the UK government for the rise of Islamic State.

It appeared alongside a picture of Corbyn shaking hands with Kozbar, detailed regular meetings between the two men, and quoted the Labour leader as calling the mosque leader “fantastic”.

Finsbury Park mosque became infamous for hosting the radical preacher Abu Hamza before it was shut down by the authorities in 2003 over an alleged plot to produce the poison ricin.

Kozbar says he has since fought hard to rebuild the mosque’s reputation and standing in the community and he was forced to fight the case against the Sunday Telegraph in order to take a stand against “Islamophopic media coverage”. He insisted the article was “not just an attack on me but also my faith community”.

“This mosque went through very difficult times in the past and we managed to change the atmosphere from a hostile atmosphere to a welcoming community,” said Kozbar. “We will not accept anyone who wants to destroy the reputation and the hard work that has been done with the community here at Finsbury Park mosque.”

Corbyn appeared alongside Kozbar last summer following the far-right terrorist attack near the mosque, which resulted in the death of Makram Ali.

Mohammed Kozbar, Chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, with faith and community leaders. Together, our community will get through this tragedy.

— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 19, 2017

Jonathan Coad of Keystone Law, who took up the case after Kozbar was unsatisfied with a ruling by the press regulator Ipso, said: “While there are many responsible elements of the press, the demonising of Muslims in some parts of it is immensely destructive.

“These legal proceedings should never have been necessary. The article should not have been published.”


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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