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Declassified UK challenges defamatory attack on its work by Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Investigative journalism organisation Declassified UK has written an urgent letter responding to an attack on its work and reputation by the British Embassy in La Paz.

Posted on 19 March 2021

On Friday 12 March, the British Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, issued a communication on Twitter and Facebook, appearing to denigrate an article written and published by Declassified UK, a not-for-profit media outlet dedicated to public service independent journalism.

The article was based on information obtained by Declassified from the FCDO through freedom of information requests. But the British Embassy referred in its statement to a ‘campaign of disinformation’ that could only be reasonably understood as directed against the Declassified article. Declassified UK says the statement is false and defamatory and has sent a legal letter to ask for the communication to be taken down and an immediate apology issued.

Represented by Leigh Day solicitors, the letter says the communication is a reprehensible attack on Declassified UK and on media freedom generally. It is deeply offensive and highly damaging to Declassified UK’s professional work.

The Declassified article provided information about support by the UK for the coup regime in Bolivia which replaced elected President Evo Morales.

It said the British Embassy in Bolivia had provided data to the Organisation of American States (OAS) which was used by OAS in a now-discredited report alleging irregularities in the election of President Morales in October 2019.

The article reported that the UK appeared to have acted as a “strategic partner” to the regime that replaced that of President Morales; to have funded various projects associated with future commercial opportunities in Bolivia shortly before and around the time of the regime change, via a British Embassy funding scheme; and to have taken various steps apparently aimed at developing commercial opportunities arising from the resignation of President Morales.

Those reports were in each case substantiated by the documents provided by the FCDO to our client.

Declassified UK journalist Matt Kennard approached the FCDO with questions and a request for comment about the article, but the short reply he received did not answer his questions and did not dispute the content.

After the article was published, the British Embassy in La Paz published the communication in Spanish on Twitter and Facebook. The communication was retweeted by Ambassador Jeff Glekin and the FCDO Newsdesk has said that it stands by the statement.

Declassified UK Editor Mark Curtis said:

“It is utterly unacceptable for a part of the Foreign Office to publicly attack a media outlet, on the basis of no evidence, for a wholly factual article, and this amounts to an attack on media freedom and independent journalism. The British embassy in Bolivia, and specifically its ambassador, has been shown by Declassified UK to be a supporter of the coup regime in the country and it seems to be resorting to slurs to distract from this role”.

Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short said:

“The conduct of the British Embassy in La Paz is all the more extraordinary in circumstances where our client’s article is based on information obtained from the FCDO. Prior to publication both the British Embassy in La Paz and the FCDO failed to provide satisfactory answers to any of the questions our client put to them, and did not dispute any of the factual assertions which form the basis of the article. The actions of the Embassy and the Ambassador are nothing less than an assault on media freedom. Our client calls on those involved to retract their statements and issue an immediate apology.”

Tom Short
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Tom Short

Tom Short is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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