Ben Roberts Smith Used Like A Human Pinata, Defamation Trial Told

An Afghan villager giving evidence against war veteran Ben Roberts-Smith in a defamation trial has declared he will tell the truth, even if it results in his death.

Farmer Mohammed Hanifa was called by Nine Entertainment Co, the publisher of two of the newspapers being sued in the Federal Court, to appear as a witness via video link from Kabul.

The 38-year-old has told the court he saw "with his own eyes" key events around the alleged murder of a man he says was his relative, Ali Jan, during a raid on the village of Darwan in September 2012.

A central allegation in the stories published by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times is that Mr Roberts-Smith kicked Ali Jan over a cliff and entered into an agreement that he be killed before soldiers covered it up.

Mr Roberts-Smith denies the allegations and says a man killed that day was a suspected Taliban lookout.

The newspapers are relying on a truth defence.

Under cross-examination by the veteran's barrister, Bruce McClintock SC, Mr Hanifa was on Wednesday accused of being financially motivated due to offers of compensation from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Mr McClintock suggested Mr Hanifa had had discussions about payment for the events of that day, but was told compensation would not be provided for the death of a Taliban member.

"No, brother, I haven't," Mr Hanifa replied through an interpreter.

"By God, I haven't seen any official from the Human Rights Commission ... I don't know why you are saying this."

Mr Hanifa was excused when the cross-examination concluded, but launched into a passionate, animated speech on the video link.

"I'm not afraid of anybody, even if I die I will tell the truth," he told the hearing in Sydney. 

Mr Hanifa said this was in line with his country's customs and laws.

"If you witness something like a crime, you have to testify about it, even if somebody wants me to go to Australia or the US or any other country in the world," he said.

"I will go there and testify that Ali Jan was a labourer. He was a labourer, he was a labourer, he was a labourer."

Earlier, another of Mr Roberts-Smith's barristers, Arthur Moses SC, told the court his client has been used "like a human pinata", with allegations about him thrown around "like confetti" by the newspapers.

While the trial temporarily resumed this week to hear from Afghan witnesses after delays due to Sydney's COVID-19 outbreak, Mr Moses pushed for certainty around when in November it would resume to hear from Australian witnesses.

Nicholas Owens SC, for Nine, said Australian witnesses should be allowed to file an application to be excused from complying with their subpoenas on the grounds of hardship, but that those applications should be dealt with when the hardship arose.

But Mr Moses said he wanted the Australian witnesses to apply to be excused at least a week before they were due to be called.

He said a 14-day period of isolation may be "the price they pay" for attending.

"My client suffers prejudice every day, without getting into a speech, because the respondents continue publishing articles, as late as yesterday, making all sorts of assertions against him," Mr Moses said.

"He cannot continue a situation where he's being used as a human pinata by the respondents. 

"There has to be a day of reckoning in terms of these allegations. They have to be established or proven to be untrue."

Mr Roberts-Smith denies all of the allegations reported in the publications, including that he also bullied former Special Air Service Regiment colleagues and committed an act of domestic violence against a woman with whom he was having an affair.

The trial before Justice Anthony Besanko continues.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/ben-roberts-smith-used-like-a-human-pinata-defamation-trial-told/ar-AAMDoVC

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Filed Under: MSN
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