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Arabic news website pays out to prince over 'seriously defamatory' claims he plotted against king

A Moroccan prince has received an apology and substantial damages from an Arabic-language news site based in London after it wrongly accused him of plotting to undermine his cousin, King Mohammad VI.

Prince Moulay Ben Abdallah Al Alaoui of Morocco, known as Moulay Hicham, sued Elaph Publishing for defamation over an article published on its website on 8 October 2014.

The article was headlined: “Using former boxer Zakaria Moumni in a premeditated plot: Moulay Hicham schemes to entrap Mounir Al-Majidi.”

It claimed the prince was “endlessly plotting, scheming and weaving machinations” in order to damage his country and king, showing him to be “devious, underhand and disloyal”.

The prince’s lawyers said it was “seriously defamatory of him and false in almost every respect”.

Hicham, who is fourth in line to the Moroccan throne, was not contacted by Knightsbridge-based Elaph.com before publication and was “shocked and appalled” by the story, the High Court heard last week.

His lawyers told the court: “Not only was it false in almost every respect, but these allegations were extremely damaging to his deserved reputation as a moderate advocate for gradual democratic reform in Morocco. Transparency is an essential part of that reputation.

“The article’s suggestion that he would plot such destructive acts against the king, in the most devious, clandestine and cynical way, is the very anathema of how the prince truly behaves.”

After the prince’s lawyers contacted Elaph, the article was removed one day after publication and the website said it had only been read by a small fraction of its total readership, which it claims has 1.3m users per month.

The website did not offer a correction or apology, however, prompting a three-year court battle to secure one alongside compensation.

Elaph has also offered redress under the Data Protection Act by correcting his inaccurate personal data, erasing that personal data, agreeing not to republish the article in future and paying damages and costs.

An Elaph spokesperson told Press Gazette: “Elaph published an apology on its website in January this year on terms it agreed in advance with the Prince.”

Speaking after the High Court hearing on 5 November, Hicham said: “I was shocked and appalled by the publication of this article by Elaph. It caused me very real concerns, not only regarding the damage it caused to my reputation, but also concerns for my physical safety and security.

“Whilst I am very disappointed at Elaph’s refusal to join in today’s statement in open court, I am nevertheless glad that it has finally apologised to me, and accepted that the allegations it made against me were defamatory and entirely false.

“I initiated these proceedings as a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford. As a resident of the United Kingdom, I considered myself subject to the laws and protections afforded by the British Crown and Her Majesty’s government and courts. As such, I am deeply grateful that even as a foreign national, the rule of law has applied fairly to my circumstances.

“I am also grateful that the statement in open court procedure has allowed me to obtain public vindication today. This ideal of due process is not found everywhere in the world, and is something that will reverberate within me for the rest of my life.”

Founded in 2001 by Saudi businessman Osman Al Omair, Elaph is an independent Arabic news website that is based in London to avoid censorship rules faced by other media outlets in the Arab world.

According to the latest available ABC figures, Elaph had 1.8m monthly unique browsers in May 2010.

Read the full statement in open court here.

Picture: Reuters/Macao 

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