With the Jamal Khashoggi affair still etched in recent memory, an interesting trial is making its way through the D.C. court system, civil division. The filings in the case are public and easy to access.
The essence of the lawsuit, heard by D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Rigsby, is a claim by Saudi dissident Ali Al-Ahmed of the Gulf Institute think tank here in Washington, D.C., of defamation against the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, or SAPRAC. Al-Ahmed accuses the leader of SAPRAC, Salman Al-Ansari, of calling him a terrorist in publically available writings of the Saudi lobbying group. We have seen many instances of foreign arguments being fought out in Western courts; a perfect example are the myriad of Russian and Ukrainian legal issues being resolved through the courts in the United Kingdom, under the venerated British rule of law, from which the American system stems. Russia recently sued Ukraine over a default on a bond payment. Russian oligarchs routinely duke it out in front of UK judges. This fight is no different.
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SAPRAC seems to have lost the initial, legal wrangling in the case the court documents show. A judge recently ruled that calling someone a terrorist is not an opinion, it is a factual statement, and therefore can become defamatory. The judge also overruled SAPRAC’s claim that the organization can’t be sued as they are commenting on public policy, denying their anti-SLAPP motion. In other words, the case which was filed last March, gets to move on.
SAPRAC for its part has denied any defamatory behavior and insists the judge erred in his rulings. They will appeal, believing the lawsuit is an attempt to shut down public discussion of policy, reiterating they have the ability to discuss their view of Ali Al-Ahmed’s activities. SAPRAC also has filed a motion to dismiss and reargue, saying the judge didn’t afford both sides a hearing, in spite of the fact the judge allowed each side to submit more brief pages than normally allowed. The decision on that issue is yet to be decided.
No matter how the final argument gets resolved, there is no doubt it is an important case.
Per previous interviews, Al-Ahmed believes he is trying to build up his reputation as a thought leader in that part of the world, and being defined as a terrorist in the public square obviously hinders that effort. “This is my way of fighting back,” he told us previously. “I am putting my trust in the American system and will wait patiently for the day when I have a resolution.Sponsored Content
“This is an opportunity for the American media to take a closer look at the Saudis and their activities in the United States. There should be more reporting on this issue.
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“The monarchy is killing people they don’t like in their embassies and they are calling me a terrorist? It doesn’t make sense. But still, it is out there and needs to be dealt with, so I am doing so. They dismiss people by calling them a terrorist or killing them.”
The end game of this case will have relevance in the future as to how foreign governments can go after dissidents that are saying things they don’t like. We will follow the outcome and report as usual.
Originally posted at The Washington Times