The curious case of the doctor who became a shawarma vendor

Punishment is important to protect people from lies and insults

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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There is a doctor whom everyone commends and who has been honored by the Saudi royal court, which granted him a certificate of merit for donating blood 10 times. His colleagues speak highly of him.

The official medical administration says he is the only specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery in the area where he works in Tabuk, which is located northwest Saudi Arabia and whose population is 800,000. The administration says he “performs his job duties to the fullest, covers all required night shifts and shows up for the cases of emergency at all times.”

This good biography was destroyed because a young man decided to come up with a story to entertain his friends, and his victim for that purpose was the doctor. The young man used his cellular phone to record a video of the doctor while he was having dinner with his family at a restaurant. He edited and faked the video to make it look like the doctor was not a customer at the restaurant but an employee selling shawarma.

Since many people view videos and photos as compelling and irrefutable evidence, news websites treated the video as truth that the man is a doctor by day and a shawarma seller by night. Since what is published and supported by a video is considered a reference for some media personalities, the story also made it to TV.

Punishment is important to protect people from lies and insults, especially as people’s privacy has become exposed due to cellular phones that are also cameras and can easily exchange and circulate videos

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The fake story could have remained a joke, like the million other jokes that flood our phones. However, this joke turned into a case at the criminal court and an official investigation was conducted, considering that doctors are not allowed to perform another job. We can therefore imagine the harm, mockery and condemnation the doctor confronted as a result.

However, the ending is happy because justice prevailed, although in the past such cases were considered a waste of the judiciary’s time. The court sentenced the young man who faked the video to 100 lashes and a month in prison, and issued an obligatory decision to publish an apology for the doctor in a newspaper.

Electronic crime

Electronic crimes are growing, and have become a source of great worry. Forgery operations have expanded. Punishment is important to protect people from lies and insults, especially as people’s privacy has become exposed due to cellular phones that are also cameras and can easily exchange and circulate videos. Such acts can become a crime instead of a mere joke.

In the past, most cases submitted to court and looked into were intellectual property infringement on mobile phones and blogs, while forgery and mockery via false information did not receive much of the judiciary’s attention. However, I believe that the judiciary’s adoption of deterrent punishments will help eliminate this harmful phenomenon and limit violating people’s privacy via cellular phones.

Last year, there were around 350 defamation cases. Former judge Youssef al-Salim says social media websites “have led to the underestimation of insults, defamation and invasion of privacy.”

I disagree with mixing between punishing defamation and libel and intellectual property infringement. The former is a clear-cut crime while the latter can be controversial, which is why social media websites were developed, for discussion and debate.

Electronic crime is an expanded term that refers to what is published on social media websites and other similar websites. It can include forgery, defamation and invasion of privacy, and can include sectarian and political affairs. Without categorizing them, the judiciary will sink in a sea of accusations and get preoccupied instead of addressing more important issues.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 6, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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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