LONDON // Saudi Arabia's interior minister yesterday accepted undisclosed damages from a British newspaper for a false story claiming that he had ordered police chiefs in the kingdom "to shoot and kill unarmed demonstrators without mercy".
The Independent newspaper and its Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, offered "sincere apologies" at the high court in London to Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.
It was announced in court that the "substantial" damages being paid to Prince Nayef would be handed over to charities.
Rupert Earle, the prince's barrister, told Justice Nicola Davies that the bogus claim arose from internet stories in March about Shiite activists in Saudi Arabia trying to organise a protest march.
Several websites, said Mr Earle, claimed that Prince Nayef had told police chiefs in each of Saudi Arabia's provinces that demonstrators "should be shown no mercy, should be struck with iron fists, and that it was permitted for all officers and personnel to use live rounds". Although there was no truth in the claim, the barrister said, The Independent repeated it in an article in April in which Mr Fisk suggested that Prince Nayef was "worthy of investigation by the International Criminal Court at The Hague".
Prince Nayef had not been given an opportunity to deny issuing the order and the article was reproduced on various websites and paraphrased in numerous stories carried by leading Arabic-language media, Mr Earle said.
"The defendants now accept that there is no truth in the allegation that the claimant had issued an order to police chiefs throughout Saudi Arabia to shoot and kill unarmed demonstrators without mercy, or that he therefore deserves to be investigated by the International Criminal Court for a crime against humanity," Mr Earle told the judge.
Helen Morris, the solicitor for the Independent, told the court that the newspaper and Mr Fisk accepted there was no truth in the allegation and both were happy to withdraw it unreservedly.