January 15, 2009

Free books v. censorship


Ambassador Craig Murray

Ambassador Craig Murray

Remember Craig Murray? He was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan back in 2003; he blew the whistle on the Karimov administration’s charming habits of torturing and killing Uzbek citizens, accused the British government of selling its soul in order to obtain unreliable intelligence, and was removed from office in 2004. Since then, he’s sold his memoirs (which include some juicy bits about a bellydancer he met in Tashkent, who now lives with him in London and stars in a West End show called The Ambassador’s Bellydancer), written a lot for newspapers and magazines, and established quite a name for himself as a human rights campaigner.

His new book, The Catholic Orange Men of Togo and Other Conflicts I Have Known, was supposed to be published imminently by Mainstream. However, as he revealed on Monday in a post on his blog, the publishers pulled out after coming under great pressure from uber-libel lawyers Schillings, who were acting on behalf of the mercenary Tim Spicer, who has made millions of pounds in Iraq. In an understandable fit of rage, Murray coined a new term to describe the lawyers’ behaviour — “Chilling” — and decided to release the whole of his book online. You can download it, and read his post, here.

In an update today, he crows about his triumph over the UK’s “infamously repressive libel laws”, pointing out that in just two days 1,810 people – a fairly impressive number – have downloaded the book and thanking Tim Spicer for the free publicity. The gauntlet is thrown down; will Spicer sue him? He says not, because there is no libel to answer to. “What I hope I have now proved, with the help of Schillings, is that in the digital age any attempt to suppress truth can simply lead to that truth becoming much more widely known.” If more people become willing to publish for free, he might well be right. Or maybe we’ll see the House of Commons working swiftly to tighten up the current loopholes. After all, it could be them being exposed on the web next.