Judgement reserved in AM Mohammad Asghar libel case

Mohammad Asghar
Image caption Mr Asghar and another man were awarded £270,000 in damages in another case in January

An assembly member has been accused of an abuse of the legal system for bringing a libel action against four Newport men.

Mohammad Asghar, the Conservative AM for South Wales East, alleges the men libelled him in a newsletter and in a file that was given to the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies.

It is alleged the men accused Mr Asghar, and his co claimant, Abdul Mujahid, of financial impropriety and other illegal activity.

Mr Asghar's barrister said the claim was entirely proper because of the seriousness of the allegations.

Representing two of the defendants, Manzoor Ahmad and Farzand Ali, Clare Kissin told the court the case "should be struck out as an abuse" because Mr Asghar and his co-claimant Abdul Mujahid had already been awarded damages from an Urdu newspaper in respect of similar allegations.

'Proper claim'

Ms Kissin also suggested that matters raised with an assembly member, such as those in the file given to Andrew RT Davies, should not be capable of being libellous.

She said: "(That) one should have to fear defamation proceedings when raising concerns with a member of the Welsh Assembly is very bizarre."

William Bennett, for Mr Asghar and Mr Mujahid, said the libel action was a "proper claim brought for proper purposes".

He added the allegations were "serious and made in a thoroughly reprehensible way" and it was a "proper use of court process to bring the libel claim and seek vindication".

Ms Kissin, and David Leathley who is representing the third defendant, Shokat Butt, said there was no evidence to prove their clients had participated in the production or distribution of the allegedly defamatory material.

Mr Leathley told the court Mr Butt is "illiterate" in both English and Urdu it would be "stretching credulity" to suggest he was able to "shape and mould" libellous publications.

The fourth defendant, Mohammad Ali Hayat, has been absent from the trial because of ill health.

He also denies libel.

'Damage reputations'

Mr Bennett said the four had acted "in concert" to damage the reputations of Mr Asghar and Mr Mujahid following a dispute about the management of two Newport mosques.

He said the publication of the newsletter and the handing of the file to Andrew RT Davies were part of a campaign to ensure the claimants would be unable to "show their faces in the community again".

In January, Mr Asghar and Mr Mujahid were awarded £270,000 in damages from the Nawaijang Urdu language newspaper and two of its staff, after it printed similar allegations.

Earlier in the trial the Judge Mr Justice Jeremy Bennett had told the court it would not be possible for fresh damages to be awarded.

But Mr Bennett challenged that, saying the Nawaijang damages had not been recovered and the claimants were entitled to compensation.

The judge said he would now give that consideration.

Judgement in the case was reserved.

Mr Justice Baker said he would make his judgement available "in due course".

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