Al Mawashi welcomes takedown of anti-live export website

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Al Mawashi South Africa has welcomed the outcome of a formal investigation by the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), South Africa’s internet industry representative body, and a decision by its member Xneelo, a web hosting company, to take down a misleading and defamatory anti-live export website with immediate effect.

Peddling fake news

The website www.stopliveexports.com brazenly peddled misinformation and fake news about live exports. In addition, it contravened several South African ICT laws, rules, codes and standards. No official contact number, office address or even registered NPO/NGO number appeared on the website, possibly to conceal the identity of an individual or group that commissioned its design and supplied the content.

Only a Cape Town-based web design company’s credentials signature appeared on the footnote section of the website that was taken down. The website featured a press statement on the letterhead of Humane Society Africa with quotes by Tony Gerrans, executive director of the international animal protection organisation, which were uploaded to the news section.

Humane Society Africa further directed the public to www.stoplivexports.com with a published online media statement on its website asking the public to ‘add their voice’. The link takes the viewer to the site that was taken down.

Why the website was taken down

The first issue related to the website’s home page. On this page an image of the Al Messilah, the vessel used by Al Mawashi South Africa for live exports from South Africa to the Middle East, was overlaid on footage depicting animal cruelty onboard a vessel neither related to nor owned by Al Mawashi South Africa or its parent company.

“The footage was of another live export operator featured on 60 Minutes in Australia, and not of Al Mawashi South Africa,” said Ilyaas Ally, managing director of Al Mawashi South Africa.

In a media interview on OFM, days before the website went live, Marcelle Meredith, executive director of the NSPCA associated the 60 Minutes footage with Al Mawashi. Meredith is heard saying: “There is an existing ship, Al Messilah, one of the worst ships in the fleet [and] anybody could watch Australia’s 60 Minutes.”

The interview was conducted days before the NSPCA lost its case against Al Mawashi South Africa in the Grahamstown High Court. The second issue on the site concerned the creation of a spam email interface. The site included an email form that enabled site visitors to send unsolicited emails, which contravened not only ISPA policies and Xneelo’s acceptable usage policy but also South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (Act 4 of 2013) (or POPI Act).

Damaging the reputation of Al Mawashi and the live export industry

According to Ally, it is irresponsible of South African animal rights and welfare groups to attempt to damage the reputation of the South African live export industry with communication stunts such as this website.

“Our work is far from over. Several other South African websites are following this fallen site’s modus operandi, namely sending unsolicited emails to individuals and making wild claims.

“ISPA and Xneelo’s decision signals that while the Internet is often touted as a highly democratised communication space and medium affording freedom of speech for advocacy, individuals and groups abusing new media through defamatory content can and will be held accountable through a takedown.

“We will work through several other sites with ISPA to ensure informational justice prevails for the live exports industry, for the many producers and individuals relying on live exports for their livelihoods, and for the Middle Eastern households that look to South Africa for their food security,” Ally concluded. – Press release, Al Mawashi