A judge has sentenced a Twitter user to be publicly lashed and jailed after defaming a Kuwaiti singer named Shams. The lawsuit came from Shams herself in a daring move against the person who slandered her.
The ruling by a Saudi judge is significant because it has put an end to the controversial issue about the freedom of personal expression and privacy on Twitter and other social media networks. The ruling stated that everyone has equal rights before the law, including artists whose rights have been neglected by the judiciary.
However, what is more significant is that people can now be held accountable for his or her comments, whether they are against a common, or public figure. This will surely have an impact on people’s perception of expression, freedom and rights.
This issue has become more widespread since courts in the United States and Europe are now willing to hear cases against slanderous statements made on Twitter and other social media sites.
Restraining 'free speech' in social media
In fact, this has closed the door to free expression in various forms, which undermines the purpose of Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks. A personal comment on these sites can now be found as incriminating as one that is written, if that expression borders on the malicious.
The general perception was that social media networks are an open platform for personal expression, without being bonded to legal and political restrictions to which the traditional media is subjected. Since these messages are typically simple personal opinions that people express at home or among friends, why are people being treated in that way?
The reason is that these new interactive social media platforms have proved to be influential opinion-makers and consequently, provoke the political and social spheres in general. Their impact has far exceeded that of the traditional media. Due to these platforms, people have started to count their losses and those who feel they are offended are seeking the most severe penalties.
These new interactive social media platforms have proved to be influential opinion-makers and consequently, provoke the political and social spheres in general. Their impact has far exceeded that of the traditional media.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
In western courts, the damage caused by the media is measured by its size as well. A newspaper that sells a million copies each day is held more accountable than the one that sells a thousand. Therefore it is expected that the same reasoning will be applied to social media users. The more “followers” they have, the more serious is their offense and the higher the penalty.
Judges tend to make tough judgments because they believe the situation requires immediate intervention to stop “major collective offences” or trends as we call it.
If anyone tries to count the offenses on Twitter for a day only, he may find thousands of them and according to the law, he will find that all of them deserve to be lashed or jailed.
He will find people circulating false information or others defaming women or unjustly accusing others or even inciting violence. He might also find people resorting to tricks to raise money and others who deliberately try to mislead people.
Only a few of these types of people will be held accountable. These few will be treated as examples by the judge who will try to state his opinion through harsh sentences. Social media platforms are no longer private gatherings and anyone can be held accountable for anything he says.
Setting a precedent
After sentencing the man for defaming Shams, we expect that many people will now refrain from expressing themselves against artists
Shams is indeed a daring woman because she resorted to Saudi courts knowing that they do not usually welcome cases of people from the entertainment sector.
It is worth mentioning that the ruling was against defaming the singer and not just criticizing her; anyone can criticize her performance, voice, look or opinion but when someone accuses a woman of promiscuity or adultery, he then becomes a potential offender.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 30, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
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