Mr Hasan Selim and the Irish Sun on Sunday
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint by Mr Hasan Selim.
On October l8 2015 The Irish Sun on Sunday published a report that a prisoner convicted of rape serving a l6 year sentence in the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, had converted to Islam and had changed his name to Hasan Selim. The article claimed that the prison provided Mr Selim with access to a prayer room and met his Halal dietary requirements. It also stated that Mr Selim had “in the past accused officers of being insensitive to his needs as a Muslim but the Prison service did not uphold his complaint”.
Mr Selim complained to the editor of the Irish Sun on Sunday that the article breached a number of Principles of the Code of Practice.
The newspaper editor responded to the complainant and stated he did not accept that the article had breached any Principles of the Code, but that he would consider publishing either a letter to the editor by way of reply to the article or a correction of any inaccuracy once his attention was drawn to any such inaccuracy and after he had investigated it further.
As Mr Selim was not satisfied with the newspaper’s response he made a formal complaint to the Press Ombudsman’s Office. He complained that the article breached Principles 1 (Truth and Accuracy) , 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment) and 4 (Respect for Rights) of the Code of Practice because, he said, he had never accused prison officers of being insensitive to his needs as a Muslim and had never made a complaint against a prison officer or officers. He complained under Principles 2 and 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) that the writer of the article was not impartial toward him because she had previously had personal and professional disagreements with him. He complained under Principle 5 (Privacy) that the article breached his privacy as it was based on his personal religious practice and he complained under Principle 8 (Prejudice) that the article used language that was likely to cause or stir up hatred against him.
During conciliation the editor in a letter to the Press Ombudsman’s Office stated that he was satisfied from his “newspaper’s sources” that Mr Selim had in fact made a number of complaints against prison officers. He also stated that it was in the public interest to publish the information that Mr Selim had converted to Islam and had changed his name as he had “been convicted of one of the most serious and barbaric rape and sexual assaults that had been committed in the State”.
As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
The complainant, Mr Hasan Selim, consented to the prison authorities providing the Press Ombudsman with information about any complaints he may have made. The authorities confirmed that Mr Selim had made two complaints that his dietary requirements as a Muslim were not being met in the prison. On foot of this information I am not upholding this part of his complaint made under Principles 1, 2 and 4.
Mr Selim in his complaint claims that Principle 2 and 3 have been breached. However the journalistic behaviour he identifies as having breached Principles 2 and 3 occurred six years ago during preparation for another article about him by the same journalist. He alleges the journalist used “unfair procedures” in her research in 2010 and asks that this be taken into consideration in adjudicating on this complaint. I cannot take into consideration unproven allegations that happened six years ago in making my decision about this complaint. Therefore I am not upholding this part of his complaint under Principles 2 and 3.
In regard to the claim that Principle 5 (Privacy) was breached it is clearly the case that prisoners lose some of their rights during incarceration. However they do not lose all their rights. Principle 5.2 of the Code of Practice states that readers are entitled to have news and comment presented with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest.
The newspaper made the case that it was in the public interest to publish the information about Mr Selim’s conversion to Islam. Normally speaking a person’s religious adherence is a private matter, but when that adherence involves requiring prison authorities to use public funds to meet specific dietary needs and when a prisoner makes formal complaints that he is being discriminated against on religious grounds because his dietary requirements are not being met there is an argument that it is in the public interest to make known these facts. For these reasons the complaint that Principle 5 has been breached is not upheld.
The complaint that the article breached Principle 8 is also not upheld. Mr Selim has not made a sustainable case that the article stirred up hatred against him on the basis of his religion. I can find nothing in the article that causes grave offence or stirs up hatred on the basis of the complainant’s religion.
28 April 2016
The complainant appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.
Decision of the Press Council
The appeal from the complainant was heard by the Press Council at its meeting on 1 July 2016. The Press Council decided to reject the appeal and to uphold the decision of the Press Ombudsman.