- Judge accepts campaign against Nasir Butt was politically motivated.
- Says there is no evidence that Nawaz prevented Butt’s conviction.
- Says Firdous Ashiq Awan made untrue allegations.
LONDON: A judge at the UK High Court has accepted that PMLN’s UK Vice President Nasir Butt was victimised by the Pakistani media and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government in 2019 because he was a loyalist of former Premier Nawaz Sharif – after secretly filming judge Arshad Malik who confessed that he was blackmailed to declare Nawaz Sharif guilty in the Al-Azizia Reference and had no choice but to convict Nawaz Sharif to save his life.
Master of the Queen’s Bench Division at the Royal Courts of Justice Mr John Marshall Anthony Dagnall said this while giving his decision in favour of Nasir Butt’s defamation claim against a private Pakistani news television which had made allegations against Mr Butt following the release of judge Arshad Malik’s video by Maryam Nawaz Sharif.
The judge John Marshall Anthony Dagnall said it was evident that Nasir Butt was targeted by the then establishment and the government of PTI and called a murderer, criminal and a drug-dealer by Firdous Ashiq Awan, the Information Minister for the then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s govt, only because Nasir Butt had filmed the former accountability judge Arshad Malik who had confessed in the secretly recorded video that he was blackmailed and pressurized to give a guilty verdict against Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia case.
Accountability judge Arshad Malik had acquitted Mr Sharif in the Flagship reference on Dec 24, 2018, and sentenced him to seven-year imprisonment in Al-Azizia reference.
Nasir Butt had come under attack from Pakistani media and the then Government of Imran Khan after he filmed the judge and passed it to Maryam Nawaz before leaving for London. The PTI govt launched a huge crackdown against Mr Butt after Maryam Nawaz addressed an explosive press conference on 6 July 2019 in Lahore and revealed that the accountability judge had contacted Nasir Butt and told him that he was feeling “guilt” and “having nightmares” after announcing the “unjust” verdict against Nawaz Sharif and then played a video showing Nasir Butt and the judge talking to each other.
Nasir Butt issued defamation proceedings against the private news channel at the UK High Court over two broadcasts on 6th July 2019 and 23rd August 2019. During the first broadcast, Firdous Ashiq Awan called Nasir Butt a “notorious killer”, “member of a drug marketing network”; and “absconder in a murder case”.
During the programme on 23rd August 2019, three prominent and well-known anchors repeated allegations of murder against Nasir Butt and further alleged that Nawaz Sharif had helped Nasir Butt in preventing his conviction in the murder case and that he used to take Maryam Nawaz Sharif shopping when she was in Jeddah with her father during exile. Nasir Butt had sued the channel, pleading that Firdous Ashiq Awan and the anchors had lied about him, defamed him and ran propaganda against him. The judge accepted the evidence advanced by Nasir Butt that he was unfairly attacked by TV anchors and the minister.
Over the past two and a half years of these proceedings, the court passed several orders against the channel for failing to engage and failing to defend the claim. The channel was also ordered to pay costs on four separate occasions before the final hearing.
At the final hearing to determine the damages award for Nasir Butt in his claim against the channel, the Judge ruled in favour of Nasir Butt’s defamation claim awarding him substantial damages – Nasir Butt had issued a claim for £100,000. The Judge also granted costs to his lawyers and accepted Nasir Butt’s claim as credible that there had been a witch-hunt by the media and the then Government just because he had exposed a grave injustice against Nawaz Sharif by bringing to the forefront the truth about how the former Premier was jailed and wronged.
Master Dagnall said he accepted that there was no evidence that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif prevented the further investigation and prosecution of Nasir Butt in relation to allegations that he had committed a murder in Rawalpindi in the mid-90s.
The judge said the TV channel did not defend the allegations and accepted therefore that there was no truth in any of the allegations that had been made after the video was released.
The judge also said that allegations of criminality against Nasir Butt had caused him distress and difficulties, his family was attacked in London and Nasir Butt suffered enormously as a result and therefore he deserved compensation at a higher level.
The channel had pleaded to the court that its allegations aired in the UK on two shows were not viewed by a lot of people therefore Nasir Butt should not be awarded what he sought but the judge said the impact of the false allegations made by the media was enormous on Nasir Butt and his family.
Master Dagnall made reference to an earlier ruling by the Honourable Mr Justice Saini in April this year when the judge issued a judgement in favour of Nasir Butt. Mr Justice Saini had, in April 2022, also granted an injunction preventing the channel from repeating these allegations directly or indirectly, or by its employees, servants or agents publish or cause to be published any statement referring to Nasir Butt to imply or suggest that he was “a murderer and member of an illegal drug marketing network who has left Pakistan in order to avoid prosecution for criminal offences” and that Nasir Butt’s “connections with the ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif prevented the further investigation and prosecution of the Claimant in relation to allegations that he had committed murder”.
After the judgement, the channel started negotiations to settle the case out of court to pay Nasir Butt damages, but the talks broke down. Lawyers for Nasir Butt instead proceeded with court action and went all the way to trial where the judge heard from lawyers of both sides, read all the evidence presented and then made the ruling in favour of Nasir Butt.
Master Dagnall referred to Nasir Butt’s evidence in which it was claimed that the channel had applied pressure on Nasir Butt by asking the PMLN leadership and senior Sharif family members to force Nasir Butt to drop the case or settle on their terms. Master Dagnall said this was an aggravating factor.
The judge said he accepted the evidence that Nasir Butt’s brother was killed in Pakistan in 1996 by a gang and Nasir Butt had to flee to the UK. He said that three killers of Nasir Butt’s brother were then murdered but at that time Nasir Butt was in the UK. “I accept that those murders were not his responsibility,” said the judge.
The judge said: “I accept that in 2014 the Claimant (Mr Butt) returned to Pakistan and was prosecuted and was acquitted of all charges” and there is no evidence that Nawaz Sharif had any role in that.
The Master said that Nasir Butt had a prominent role in the British Pakistani community but he was vilified, ostracised and subjected to abuse and suffered serious harm in the community as a result of these serious allegations and abuse that he was subjected to by his rivals.
The judge said he accepted the definition of the meanings and it was clear that the words uttered were seriously harmful to Nasir Butt’s reputation.
Nasir Butt was represented by Stone White Solicitors and Counsel David Lemer of Doughty Street Chambers. The private TV company was represented by Farani Taylor Solicitors.