Former diplomat hands himself in at police station to begin sentence over ‘jigsaw ID’ of Salmond accusers

Press freedom campaigners have criticised the sentencing of the blogger

Lamiat Sabin
Sunday 01 August 2021 19:30 BST
Murray, 62, presented himself to St Leonard’s police station in Edinburgh on Sunday morning
Murray, 62, presented himself to St Leonard’s police station in Edinburgh on Sunday morning (AFP/Getty)

A former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and pro-Scottish independence blogger has handed himself in to police to start his eight-month sentence for contempt of court.

Craig Murray, 62, presented himself to St Leonard’s police station in Edinburgh on Sunday morning.

Dozens of wellwishers gathered in the street to sing Auld Lang Syne. Murray posed for photos with his wife and sons, and thanked his supporters for their presence before making his way to the police station.

He was sentenced to eight months in jail over blogs and tweets he wrote about court proceedings in the trial last year of former Scottish National Party first minister Alex Salmond.

Murray had alleged that the SNP leadership, the Scottish government, the Crown Office and police had worked together to convict Mr Salmond on charges of sexual harassment and attempted rape.

His posts contained details which, if put together, could lead readers to identify women who made allegations against Mr Salmond – now leader of the newly formed Alba Party.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of all 13 charges, including sexual assault and attempted rape, in March 2020.

People who allege that they have been raped or sexually assaulted are granted anonymity to protect their identities.

At a virtual sentencing in May, Lady Dorrian said Murray knew there were court orders giving the women anonymity, and that he was “relishing” the prospect of his blog readers and Twitter audience potentially piecing together their identities.

Alex Salmond was acquitted of all 13 rape and sexual assault charges
Alex Salmond was acquitted of all 13 rape and sexual assault charges (EPA)

Lady Dorrian, who is one of Scotland’s most senior judges, said Murray deliberately risked what is known as “jigsaw identification”.

She said: “It appears from the posts and articles that he was in fact relishing the task he set himself, which was essentially to allow the identities of complainers to be discerned – which he thought was in the public interest – in a way which did not attract sanction.”

Murray – whose appeal application was rejected by the Supreme Court earlier this week – described his trial, which convicted him without a jury, as “Kafkaesque”, and said that he “genuinely does not know” who he was “supposed to have identified”.

He added that he believed his conviction was “the state’s long-sought revenge for my whistleblowing on security service collusion”.

The Foreign Office suspended Murray from his diplomatic role in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2004. He has claimed that it was due to his exposing the use by MI6 of intelligence allegedly obtained under torture by the Uzbek government.

Press freedom groups and journalists have called for Murray’s release.

The Scottish branch of campaign group PEN International said it had “grave concerns” over his imprisonment.

It added: “The writer is the first person to be imprisoned in Scotland for media contempt for over 70 years. We fear this ruling will have a chilling effect on reporting and free expression.”

Rebecca Vincent, international campaigns director at Reporters Without Borders, said: “While journalists must ensure they adhere to court orders with regard to witness protection, Craig Murray’s prison sentence on charges related to his blogging is disproportionate and highly concerning.

“He should be released and alternative measures considered.”

SNP president Michael Russell said that Ms Vincent’s comment had “struck the right balance” over the “disproportionate” punishment.

He tweeted: “[Murray] was guilty (and wilfully so) of a damaging offence given the importance of protecting those involved and ensuring that complainants are not deterred by such actions – but the sentence seems disproportionate.”

British writer and journalist Jonathan Cook said: “The refusal to hear Craig Murray’s appeal against his unprecedented conviction for ‘jigsaw identification’ means the British state has now effectively been given the power to license journalists.”

Australian journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger said: “First, it was Julian Assange, now another truth-teller, Craig Murray, is a political prisoner. All solidarity with Craig and his family and, remember, you have been warned – again.”

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