Credit: Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) is crowdfunding to fight a legal battle aimed at suing the publication into silence.

TBIJ, together with openDemocracy and The Daily Telegraph, published an investigation in February this year on Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former Kazakh president, who they report held billions in assets in a UK-registered company, Jusan Technologies, with just one employee. The article adds weight to the growing narrative that the UK is enabling oligarchs and dictators to do business in the country without sufficient oversight.

The Nazarbayev Fund and Jusan Technologies claim the article is inaccurate and defamatory. TBIJ confirmed that the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, acting on both parties' behalf, has filed a case in the High Court against TBIJ and The Telegraph, and a related case against openDemocracy on 17 August. None of the cases have yet been served.

The Bureau and openDemocracy have already racked up "tens of thousands of pounds" in the early stages of the legal proceedings. But they have turned to public support via a crowdfunding campaign which has nearly hit their £40k goal, comprising of more than 1,000 donations ranging from £5 to £2,000.

Rozina Breen, editor-in-chief and CEO of TBIJ said: "Public interest investigations are essential to a functioning and transparent democracy. We have been humbled and gratified at the phenomenal interest in our crowdfund campaign alongside openDemocracy."

This "war chest" helps to protect the publications against potentially lengthy legal proceedings against powerful people with deep pockets. They will stop crowdfunding at £40k but may resume it if the challenges proceed to court.

"Britain's libel laws can force journalists to run up hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs before a case even comes to court," TBIJ editor Meirion Jones told via email.

The fundraiser will help cover some of the legal costs incurred to date and to manage the uncertainty around future cases. It will also support The Bureau in continuing its public interest investigations in this field and inform legislation around SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). These are lawsuits designed to censor and silence journalism through the financial burdens of going through the legal system.

In July, then-UK justice secretary Dominic Raab proposed new powers for English and Welsh courts to dismiss SLAPP cases against journalists and news organisations. That includes a three-stage test to assess if the case is in the public interest; any evidence of abuse in the process; and finally the likelihood of the case's success. It also allows anyone facing a SLAPP lawsuit to apply for early dismissal. But these are still proposals.

Ironically, this case will bring the proposals back on the Parliament agenda next month following major changes to the British government.

"If these companies thought they could close down criticism by suing us they're in for a rude shock. We're joining with other journalists to challenge the whole murky SLAPP industry which is dedicated to covering up wrongdoing by the rich and powerful. The government has said it needs to be scrapped and we'll be urging them to get on with it," continues Jones.

The Daily Telegraph has not responded to the comment request.

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