Unjust use of libel laws leads to censorship

Malta: five media outlets threatened by lawyers of British-Azeri business owner

Between 1 May and 26 June 2020, a US-based law firm, Lambert Worldwide and a UK-based law firm, Atkins Thomson sent legal letters to Times of Malta, MaltaToday, Malta Independent, Lovin Malta and The Shift News in relation to their reporting and journalistic enquiries. The reporting involved a wind farm deal in Montenegro and alleged connections between Turab Musayev and Maltese business owner Yorgen Fenech who is charged with complicity in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

 

The first letter, titled, “courtesy request” was sent on 1 May 2020 to Malta Today by Lambert Worldwide in relation to an article published on its website mentioning Mr. Musayev. The letter demanded the media outlet remove the online article or undertake actions such as “de-indexing the article, or perhaps, removing our client’s name from the article.” The letter further stated that they are concerned about the contents of the published article and asserted that their client has suffered personally and professionally from its publication. However, the letter confirmed that “they are not permitted to reveal any details at this time.” According to the firm, “this letter does not constitute a notice of intent to take legal actions.”

 

On 29 May 2020, Times of Malta started to receive legal letters. After its journalist sent questions to Mr. Musayev, lawyers at Atkins Thomson sent a legal letter to Times of Malta alleging, “not for the first time, we are concerned that you are in possession of confidential material and documentation, probably gathered illegally, and that you may unlawfully misuse the same.” The letter further notified the outlet that the lawyers will take all necessary steps to prevent defamation of their client Mr. Musayev. On 5 June 2020, the lawyers contacted Times of Malta again, writing: “the fact that you still ask so many questions of our client proved beyond doubt that your research and information is wholly inadequate for your predetermined purposes.” Lawyers requested that Times of Malta must reveal its journalistic source for the article, stating “where did you get this information and documentation and on which witnesses are you relying?”

 

On 24 June 2020, Atkins Thomson lawyers sent another legal letter, contesting an opinion piece and news article published on Lovin Malta. They claim the published articles are causing harm in London where Mr. Musayev moved to in 2007 with his family. The lawyers requested Lovin Malta to withdraw the articles from the outlet’s website, and social media platforms, publish a retraction and apology, remove references to Mr. Musayev on Google and on all social media platforms, pay substantial compensation for the serious harm caused and pay their client’s legal costs.

 

On 26 June 2020, Atkins Thomson lawyers sent a similar letter to Malta Today, Malta Independent and the Shift News. The letter stated “we have written to a number of publications and are taking legal action against others. We are currently considering your article. We will take all necessary action to protect and/or restore our client’s reputation if you publish any material that is defamatory of him.”

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