Daily Telegraph pays out 'substantial' damages after lying about Mosque Leader to smear Jeremy Corbyn

The chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque has been paid a “substantial amount” by The Daily Telegraph after an attempted smear on Jeremy Corbyn went wrong for the right-wing publication.

Mohammed Kozbar was dragged into The Daily Telegraph‘s 2016 attack on Corbyn when they published the headline:

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Corbyn and the mosque leader who blames the UK for Isil

Accompanying the headline was a picture of Mr Corbyn and Mr Kozbar shaking hands.

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The article acted as a wild – and libellous – attempt to connect Mr Corbyn to extremist views, in a number of desperate, and completely false, accusations. It claimed that Mr Kozbar:

  • Supported violent Islamist extremism
  • Blamed the UK government for the rise of Islamic State
  • Praised and encouraged Islamist terrorism abroad
  • Falsely claimed to have led the mosque away from Islamist extremism when he ‘knows he has not done so’
  • Refused to comment, despite the fact The Daily Telegraph did not make contact with him

“Grave and unjustified”

Mr Kozbar is understood to have been paid damages of around £30,000 by The Daily Telegraph for the defamatory article, which has been removed from The Sunday Telegraph website with a retraction issued:

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The Daily Telegraph has accepted an offer to settle the claim by payment of substantial damages and his costs to be agreed

Mr Kozbar’s lawyer, Jonathan Coad, called the defamation “grave and unjustified”, telling Mr Justice Warby that the paper claimed his client was:

A supporter of violent Islamist extremism who has praised and encouraged Islamist terrorism abroad, and that he is a hypocrite who has falsely claimed to have led the mosque away from Islamist extremism when he knows he has not done so.

The fact the newspaper said that Mr Kozbar had declined to comment when in actual fact there had been no contact with him “aggravated” the defamation, Mr Coad said.

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“The aim was to damage the reputation of Jeremy”

After the verdict, Mr Kozbar said:

It was not just myself who was the target of this article, it was Jeremy Corbyn. The aim was to damage the reputation of Jeremy and make his progress with the Labour party more difficult.

Those who follow the right-wing press’ coverage of Mr Corbyn will hardly be surprised by the smear attempt, but they will perhaps be appreciative that Mr Kozbar achieved some justice, even if it is two years too late. Admittedly, this sense of justice feels like a drop in the ocean.

Mr Coad concluded that:

Mr Kozbar is content to use this opportunity to point out that, notwithstanding its bullish attitude prior to the issue of proceedings, the defendant has shied away from the opportunity to stand by the grave allegations that it published against him and his faith community, and has rather bought itself out of these proceedings by means of a substantial payment in damages.

On that basis he is also content to let this matter rest.

An easy target

In 2014, Finsbury Park Mosque was given a prestigious award – the Visible Quality Mark by national body Community Matters – an award rarely given to faith organisations.

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For more than 10 years, the mosque has aimed to “endorse interfaith dialogue with other religious groups (and people of no faith) with a focus on clarifying misconceptions, finding common ground, and enhancing civil society”.

However, the mosque, which is in Mr Corbyn’s Islington North constituency, is subject to many Islamophobic attacks and smears. Many right-wing voices appear to cling onto a controversial past. In 2003, it was shut down after authorities linked it to the discovery of traces of the poison ricin in a north London flat. The press and the public still unfairly associate radical preacher Abu Hamza with the mosque, despite it being many years since his involvement.

Surely, the press and public should concentrate on the decade of good that has come from the mosque, rather than historic problems?

This stream of attacks perhaps led to Mr Kozbar’s decision to sue The Daily Telegraph for the libellous article, which he called:

 Not just an attack on me but also my faith community

He went on to explain:

This mosque went through very difficult times in the past and we managed to change the atmosphere from a hostile atmosphere to a welcoming community. We will not accept anyone who wants to destroy the reputation and the hard work that has been done with the community here at Finsbury Park mosque.

Hopefully, the successful court hearing will deter any future smear attempts of this manner, or at least it might make readers think twice before accepting them.

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