Friday Jul 02 2021

Zulfi Bukhari wins first round of defamation case against Reham Khan

Former SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari (L); broadcaster and ex-wife of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Reham Khan. Photos: File.
Former SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari (L); broadcaster and ex-wife of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Reham Khan. Photos: File.

  • Justice Karen Steyn finds four corruption and dishonesty allegations in a Youtube broadcast and four tweets and retweets defamatory against Zulfi Bukhari; 
  • Reham tells court she raised important public interest issues, wanted to save Roosevelt Hotel, harbours no personal vendetta;
  • The judge cites Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman’s defamation victory as the guiding case for Urdu language broadcasts.

LONDON: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s former special assistant for Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari has won the first round of defamation case against Reham Khan, the broadcaster and former wife of PM Imran Khan.

At a trial of preliminary issues before the London High Court, Justice Karen Steyn determined the meaning of the eight publications submitted by Zulfi Bukhari in his complaint, including a YouTube video on Roosevelt Hotel by Reham Khan carrying four allegations as well as four Tweets/Retweets.

Justice Steyn did not accept Reham Khan’s assessment of the publications’ meaning and accepted Zulfi Bukhari’s submission instead.

The defamation claim started over a YouTube broadcast made by Reham Khan on December 6, 2019, from the UK’s jurisdiction in which she alleged that Zulfi Bukhari had a personal interest in the sale of Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hotel, owned by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and that Pakistan’s national assets were being sold to help people like Zulfi Bukhari in an act of “robbery”.

Seeking Chase Level 1 determination, Barrister Claire Overman for Zulfi Bukhari had argued that her client had been defamed at the highest level as he had been declared guilty of corruption and dishonesty while Reham Khan argued that the claim merited Chase Level 3 at the most, Zulfi’s reputation was not harmed and that the publications were in the public interest.

In the claim papers filed in July last year at the London High Court, the PM’s former advisor had alleged Reham Khan specifically targeted him in reference to the sale of Roosevelt Hotel.

The judge heard that in the first publication dated December 6, 2019, via YouTube, the broadcaster had made allegations of corruption and favouritism declaring that Imran Khan’s government wanted to favour Zulfi Bukhari through the shady hotel sale.

The second publication was a promotion of the same YouTube video on Twitter alleging favouritism granted to Zulfi; the third publication was the publication of the same YouTube video on Twitter; the fourth publication was the promotion of the same video with the allegation of “plunder” of Roosevelt Hotel.

The fifth publication was a retweet by another user condemning “nepotism” in relation to the same video; the sixth publication was a retweet by Reham by the same Twitter user with the words “”shocking claims & revelations” and “Zulfi needs to STOP Lying and NAB needs to investigate his father's REAL money trail”; the seventh publication was a retweet by a Pakistani journalist containing the words “notices sent to journalists & anchors who dared to raise the issue of containment of coronavirus in Pakistan” and that “Zulfi Bukhari took refuge behind PEMRA by serving” notices to two anchors. Meanwhile, the eight publication was a retweet of a tweet in which Zulfi Bukhari was “blamed for the #coronavirus spread in Pakistan” and “putting millions of Pakistani lives at risk”.

In her deference, Reham Khan told the court that her December 6, 2019, vlog was an effort to raise an alert in the public interest about the government's plans about the iconic Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. She said her broadcast was based on the information that the Aviation ministry had objected to the creation of a task force on Roosevelt.

Reham Khan maintained she only wanted to save Roosevelt Hotel and had a right to raise questions about the “performance or buffoonery of the government”.

She told the judge she had not used derogatory language and that her comments were not a personal attack to defame the claimant. She further said that her objective was achieved and that the sale of Roosevelt had been stopped.

Judge Karen Steyn found that the natural and ordinary meaning of all eight publications contained a Chase Level 1 imputation; the natural and ordinary meaning of all eight publications were statements of facts apart from a part of the seventh publication which is an opinion (the rest of the seventh publication is a statement of fact); and that all eight publications were defamatory of Zulfi Bukhari at common law.

In her decision, the judge mentioned the libel victory of Jang and Geo’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman against a private Pakistani broadcaster five years ago and said that the ruling made in the meaning trial of MSR’s case had set the precedent for Urdu language broadcast cases related to the UK’s jurisdiction.

In a statement, Reham Khan said: “I have no reason to harbour any personal vendetta against Zulfi. We parted on cordial terms. This, however, does not mean that I will not criticise the PTI government’s performance and plans that make no sense.”

Barrister Claire Overman, it’s understood, will be taking further instructions.