Journalist Ash Sarkar has won her libel and harassment case against columnist Julie Burchill after facing two weeks of targeted abuse in December 2020. As a result, on March 16, 2021, Burchill published an apology and agreed to pay substantial damages to Sarkar.
The libel and harassment case looked at incidents that took place late last year after Sarkar tweeted in reference to an article published by Spectator writer Rod Liddle. In the piece from 2012, Liddle wrote that he “could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids” if he was a teacher. On Dec. 13, 2020, Sarker expressed shock and disbelief that it had been published.
As the BBC reports, this is when Burchill began posting a series of defamatory statements about Sarkar, which included accusing her of being an Islamist and of worshipping a paedophile (the latter in reference to the prophet Muhammad). She reportedly also published a crude poem about Sarker and speculated on her sex life in one tweet. In addition, Burchill liked a comment that encouraged Sarkar to kill herself and one that suggested Sarkar had been a victim of FGM.
As part of the apology she published on Twitter and Facebook, Burchill wrote, “I deeply regret having reacted in the way I did. I accept that I should have behaved better. On reflection, I accept that I misjudged the situation, and made statements that simply are not true, which I now want to put right.” Burchill said she recognised that her comments played into Islamaphobic tropes.
Towards the end of her apology, Burchill wrote: “I have undertaken not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations about her, undertaken not to engage in any course of conduct amounting to harassment of Ms Sarkar, and undertaken not to contact her directly other than for legal reasons.”
After the libel and harassment case was settled, Sarkar published a piece in the Guardian detailing her experiences.
“I received direct messages on Instagram calling me a ‘dirty brown whore’, and fantasising about me being raped in ‘an all white gangbang,’” she wrote. “The intensity of the abuse, along with Burchill’s continuing derogatory posts about me, severely affected my mental health. I couldn’t sleep, and had bouts of trembling and heart palpitations. For the first time in my life, I was prescribed anti-anxiety medication.”
In December 2020, publishing house Little, Brown dropped Buchill’s upcoming book Welcome To The Woke Trials with managing director Charlie King writing a letter to staff that said “Julie’s comments on Islam are not defensible from a moral or intellectual standpoint.”
In her apology, Burchill wrote that Sarkar did not call for Little, Brown to break ties with her and highlighted that Sarkar “bears no responsibility for this.” The Evening Standard reports that the book has since been picked up Stirling Publishing.
Contributions from Alice Broster.