Two sides of the argument
29 Oct 2009

Coincidence or serendipity? Index on Censorship has found itself oddly placed by legal developments in a long running spat between Israeli and UK human rights activists and the Israeli Medical Association (IMA).

Physicians for Human Rights in Israel (PHRI) and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) accuse the IMA of failing to properly investigate reports that some Israeli doctors had overseen the torture of Palestinians by Israeli security forces.

Chairman Yoram Blachar, the outgoing chairman of the IMA and retiring president of the World Medical Association angrily broke off cooperation with PHRI as a result. In August he also called in lawyer Mark Stephens of law firm Finer Stephens Innocent to challenge London doctor Derek Summerfield, organiser of a petition calling for Blachar’s resignation that was signed by 725 eminent doctors from 43 countries.

Summerfield engaged Tamsin Allen from law firm Bindmans to defend him. By coincidence Allen provides pre-publication legal advice to Index on Censorship; Stephens is a trustee of Index on Censorship itself.

“It’s a small world,” said Index associate editor Rohan Jayasekera. Index is poised to launch a high profile initiative to seek reforms to libel law in England and Wales on November 10. “But there’s nothing in the campaign objectives that would prevent Dr Blacher from seeking redress or Dr Summerfield from defending himself, or prevent either of them seeking legal assistance to do so.”

The campaign aims to restore the balance between protecting free speech and protecting reputation. “We are all concerned by the way the present system is being abused in the UK and its chilling effect on legitimate publication.”

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