In 2003, The Australian newspaper printed a front-page story and several other news items claiming that Mr Romzi Ali had raised money for the terrorist organization, Laskar Jihad. The articles referring to Mr Ali were published less than a year after the Bali bombings in 2002, in which 88 Australians were killed.
PIAC successfully represented Mr Ali in his defamation case against the newspaper. The jury in the case found the articles suggested Mr Ali was a supporter of terrorism and ‘that he has raised money for the operations of Laskar Jihad, an organisation which does not worry about doing killing in pursuit of its political objections’.
In fact, Mr Ali was an upstanding citizen who had worked tirelessly within his community to ease tensions after the Bali bombing in 2002.
Mr Ali had earned considerable respect within his local community. The unsubstantiated allegations in The Australian had a profound impact on his life, as many who has previously trusted and respected him now had cause to doubt his motivations.
Mr Ali was the secretary of the Dee Why mosque in Sydney at the time the allegations were printed. He had a strong local media profile as an advocate for peace. He had often been quoted or photographed along with colleagues from other religious organisations including the Anglican Church, advocating for tolerance and understanding.
The Supreme Court initially awarded Mr Ali $125,000 in damages when he found that articles in The Australian had damaged Mr Ali’s reputation and had left him angry and humiliated. The Court found that reading the articles had affected Mr Ali’s health and that he was ‘frightened, alarmed, shaken and broken’.
The original award of damages was more than doubled by the NSW Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal found that the effect of the articles was ‘catastrophic or close to catastrophic on the appellant’s world’ and that the failure by the publisher, Nationwide News, to apologise to Mr Ali further aggravated the damage that he suffered.
PIAC thanks its counsel in this case, Tom Molomby SC and Roger Rasmussen.