A Saudi prince accused by a British newspaper of ordering police to gun down unarmed demonstrators during this year’s Arab uprisings won “substantial” libel damages Wednesday over the allegations.
Independent Print Ltd, publishers of The Independent newspaper, and its Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk expressed “sincere apologies” at London’s High Court over claims made against Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud.
The newspaper said allegations that the prince had ordered police to fire on protesters were published “in good faith” but accepted they had turned out to be untrue and based on a forgery.
On April 15, The Independent published a feature article about the Arab Spring headlined “A long time coming”, in which Fisk claimed the prince had ordered police chiefs “to shoot and kill unarmed demonstrators without mercy”.
Fisk, a veteran award-winning correspondent, said the order was “extraordinary and outrageous” and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
The article, also published on the newspaper’s website under the heading “The Arab awakening began not in Tunisia this year, but in Lebanon in 2005”, was widely reproduced online and paraphrased in the Arab press, the court heard.
Rupert Earle, representing the prince, told Justice Nicola Davies the claims derived from a fake “order” published online as Shia protesters in Saudi Arabia were planning a demonstration in March.
He said several websites had featured the statement, allegedly issued by Prince Nayef, permitting police chiefs to use live rounds on protesters who “should be shown no mercy ” and “struck with iron fists”.
The Independent’s lawyer Helen Morris said Fisk’s reference to the order was “made in good faith, albeit in the mistaken belief that the order was genuine.”
“Both The Independent and Robert Fisk offer their sincere apologies to Prince Nayef for the damage and distress caused by the article and the inevitable coverage it received,” she added.
A correction published on May 4 by The Independent said: “Prince Nayef has responded that the order is a forgery, was not issued by him and that he would never issue such an order.”
Prince Nayef, second in line to the Saudi throne and interior minister since 1970, said he would pay the undisclosed sum of money he received to charity.