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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Polio Workers Killed on Heels of Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (CN) - Four polio workers were shot to death in Pakistan today, days after an attorney sued the Huffington Post, claiming it defamed him by posting a blog accusing U.S. government of running a sham polio vaccination program in Pakistan, and falsely attributing it to him.

Juan Noriega of the Panama City firm Arias Abrego Lopez & Noriega sued TheHuffingtonPost.com in Federal Court on Friday, alleging defamation and invasion of privacy.

The Pakistani government announced today that gunmen have killed five polio workers this week: four of them this morning and one on Monday. Three were killed in Karachi today, a fourth in Peshawar, and one was killed Monday in Karachi. Several other health workers were wounded. All of the attacks were carried out by gunmen on motorbikes, according to wire service reports.

In his complaint, Noriega claims the Huffington Post ran the blog, titled "The Primacy of the Rule of Law," on Aug. 2, attaching his name, picture and a brief biography of him.

The blog accused the CIA of operating a bogus polio vaccination program in Pakistan through (nonparty) Dr. Shakeel Afridi.

Noriega claims the Huffington Post lured readers to the site by listing several high-interest terms at the top of the article, including "Osama Bin Laden" and "World News," "and enabled the article to be linked to those terms when they appear anywhere throughout the website."

"By maliciously and negligently allowing, approving, and assisting with the publishing of this article, defendant defamed plaintiff by making it appear that he blames the United States government and the CIA for running a fake vaccination campaign in Pakistan (a country with increased polio problems), has caused Pakistani parents not to inoculate their children, and caused the death of doctors by the Taliban in retaliation to the scam," Noriega says in the complaint.

The blog also reported that Congress demanded that Pakistan release Dr. Afridi, an effort Noriega says he views as an assault on Pakistan's sovereignty.

"As a sad footnote, thousands of innocent children all over Pakistan may be crippled for life with polio, and thousands of others may die from hepatitis, because the CIA ran a fake vaccination scheme," the blog stated, according to the complaint. "Perhaps the U.S. Congress, instead of threatening to cut off assistance to Pakistan over Afridi, should rather consider compensating his victims."

Noriega says he had nothing to do with the article.

He claims he's never had an account with The Huffington Post and has never pitched any blog ideas or submitted any other information for publication.

He claims Huffington falsely attributed the blog to him and published it for the world to see, allowing it to be "mass-shared" on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and referring to Noriega as signature contributor to the publication.

"By publishing this false, defaming, and misleading article under Mr. Noriega's name, the article also placed him in a false light before the world-at-large, in a manner that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and has caused serious damage to plaintiff's professional and personal reputation," the complaint states.

Noriega claims his attorney contacted Huffington Post editor Roy Sekoff to have the blog retracted, to no avail.

"The publication of the article has placed him in serious jeopardy with the Department of Homeland Security regarding his immigration status and the ability to move freely between Panama and the United States for business and personal purposes," the complaint states. "It also severely decreases the possibility of obtaining legal permission to conduct business in the District of Columbia and the United States through a work visa."

Noriega wants the court to order the Huffington Post to publish a retraction and pay him $3 million for damage to his reputation.

He is represented by Benjamin Chew with Patton Boggs.

Noriega is a common name in Panama.

No one has claimed responsibility for the murders in Pakistan, but them came amid a three-day polio vaccination drive, the Voice of America reported this morning.

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