Saudi cleric sues Guardian over claims he is an 'extremist' sympathetic to Al Qaeda

A Saudi cleric is suing The Guardian for unlimited damages claiming the paper has wrongly suggested he is an “extremist” sympathetic to al-Qaida.

Sheikh Saad Bin Nasser Al Shathri also claims the title incorrectly reported he is “deliberately pursuing an ongoing and divisive feud with his monarch”, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

A High Court claim form further said that in doing this it is inferred Shathri is “ignoring the considerable generosity and tolerance” shown by the king to the religious community.

The cleric is also seeking an injunction to prevent the paper from publishing defamatory material about him again.

The complained-about article, “Saudi Arabia’s clerics challenge King Abdullah’s reform agenda”, was published both in print and online in July 2011.

Written by South Asia correspondent Jason Burke, it describes Shathri as a “hardliner” and described his criticism of the king’s decision to allow men and women to work together in a science university. It quotes him as saying: “mixing (genders) is a great sin and a great evil”.

The article also claims Shatrhi is “unrepentant”  and emphasised his differences with the country’s royal family.

The claim form said it was “understood to mean that… [Shathri] is an extremist, hard-line cleric and is therefore supportive of or sympthetic towards the fundamentalist beliefs and activities of reactionaries such as al-Qaida, the well-known terrorist organisation active in the Arabic region”.

Shathri said he was not given an opportunity to respond to the aclaims prior to publication and that the facts of the story were “untrue”.

He also said the paper failed to respond to the complaint he made after publication.

A Guardian spokesperson said the paper is fighting the claims.

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