It seems Britain has a very serious problem protecting the freedom of the press, and seems entirely too willing to cave in to threats from those who are criticized. This stems from the fact that Britain doesn't offer the same kind of protection to publishers that is available in the United States, where it is almost impossible for a so-called "public figure" to sue for libel. Unless Britain wants to have its legal system abused and manipulated by Russia, a nation with which it has just entered a new cold war, it needs to seriously reconsider its libel law protections and expand them in favor of the press. The Moscow Times reports:
Several high-profile political web sites, including that of a leading contender for London mayor, have been pulled from the Internet after Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov threatened legal action. Web hosting company Fasthosts Internet last week took down the web site of Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, because of allegations made about Usmanov's past. The company said unrelated sites, including one of Boris Johnson, a Conservative lawmaker and contender in next year's London mayoral race, faced "possible downtime" for technical reasons because they were hosted on the same server. Fasthosts confirmed that it had shut down Murray's site over "potentially defamatory material" after Usmanov's London-based law firm, Schillings, demanded that the content be removed.
Murray's site remained offline Monday, as did several others hosted by Fasthosts, including Johnson's and the Bloggerheads web log.
Johnson, a well-known British member of Parliament who is the favorite to win the Conservative nomination for the mayoral race, said it was "unbelievable that a web site can be wiped out on the say-so of some tycoon." Johnson's site had no link to Murray's allegations about Usmanov. "We live in a world where Internet communication is increasingly vital, and this is a serious erosion of free speech," Johnson said in a statement.
Uzbek-born Usmanov is involved in mining, telecoms and natural gas in Russia and was ranked 278th in Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people in 2006. Usmanov last week acquired a 21 percent stake in Arsenal, one of Britain's richest and most popular football teams, through his company Red and White Holdings. Usmanov served several years in prison under the Soviet regime but was later pardoned. He says he was a political prisoner. Murray disputes this. Murray, who lost his ambassador's job in 2004 after alleging human rights abuses by the Uzbek government, said he was seeking a new host for the site outside Britain. "I stand by the truth of what I said and have every intention of posting it back on the net again," he said. "If Mr. Usmanov wants to take me to court, he is welcome to do so."