The UK Government has delivered an unprecedented apology to the editor of an Islamic website after he was labelled an “extremist hate preacher” in an official government press release in 2015.
Editor-in-chief of Islam21c, Dr Salman Butt, received the apology and compensation of an “undisclosed sum” today, in the landmark case which concluded embarrassingly for the British government.
Aiden Eardley, legal counsel for the home secretary said in open court that, “The Government accepts that it was wholly false to allege that Dr Butt is an extremist hate preacher who legitimises terrorism and therefore someone from whose influence students should be protected. It is sorry for the harm caused to him and in particular for the fact that the allegation was made and maintained for so long.”
On 17 September 2015, the then Prime Minster David Cameron’s government released a press release entitled: “PM’s Extremism Taskforce: tackling extremism in universities and colleges top of the agenda”, in which Dr Butt was named as a “hate preacher who legitimises terrorism”.
The government press release contained the updated guidelines of the controversial and Islamophobia Prevent strategy, whereby colleges and universities had to put “specific policies to stop extremists radicalising students on campuses.” Dr Butt is also challenging the government’s ‘Extremism Analysis Unit’ (EAU) for monitoring his online activities in the European Court of Human Rights, which is currently pending.
According to the statement, “Secretary of State for the Home Department has paid an undisclosed sum of compensation to Dr Butt, further to removing the offending press release from circulation, and agreeing to pay the respected author and activist’s legal costs in this matter.
“I confirm that the Secretary of State has agreed to join in this Statement in Open Court to publicly apologise to Dr Butt; to pay him compensation and his legal costs; the Government has withdrawn Dr Butt’s name from the press release.”
The other Muslim preachers and activists that were named in the press release included Shaykh Dr Haitham al-Haddad, Dr Uthman Lateef, Shaykh Alomgir Ali, Hamza Tzortzis and Imran Ibn Mansur. The UK government has removed the paragraph mentioning them all from the online version of the press release, as well as the mention of Kingston University, SOAS, Queen Mary University of London and King’s College.
Reacting to the development, Dr Butt said: “One of the clearest lessons from this long battle is how baseless the notion of “extremism”—and therefore “counter-extremism”—actually is. I believe the discourse of extremism is dead; more and more people are realising that it is a nebulous term used by the powerful to silence any thoughts, ideas or speech they do not like or cannot challenge without coercion. It is the “heresy” of today.
“Over the course of these legal proceedings the government’s own legal arguments have described “extremism” as a subjective value judgement not based on any objective criteria, as well as being neither a sufficient nor necessary cause for terrorism. Yes, you read that correctly! It is outrageous that people’s lives are destroyed and rights are restricted on a daily basis as a result of subjective and arbitrary judgements.
“It has been a very long battle to clear my name. I thank firstly Allah and secondly the world-class legal experts at Bindman’s and Matrix Chambers who represented me out of a sense of duty to uphold justice.”
Hugh Tomlinson QC, appearing on behalf Dr Butt, stated in the court: “The publication of these false and defamatory allegations by the Defendant has caused Dr Butt and his family very great distress, anxiety and damage to his reputation. He was particularly upset that these allegations had appeared in a formal government document that was issued for the information of the press and that it was published without any prior warning being given to him, and without providing him with any opportunity to respond.
“The first Dr Butt knew of the press release was when its contents were widely republished in the UK media, including the allegations it made about him. Dr Butt is pleased that the Government has now finally agreed to apologise and to join in the making of this Statement in Open Court in order to assist him to repair the harm it has caused him.”