22 August, 2007

Rights group decries jailing of UAE Web site owner

Rights group decries jailing of UAE Web site owner
AFP

August 22, 2007


DUBAI -- An Arab human rights group called Wednesday for the quashing of a one-year jail sentence against a Web site owner in the United Arab Emirates, who was also fined $19,000 on defamation charges.

The sentence against Mohammad Rashed Al Shehhi "deals a harsh blow to freedom of expression" in a country that took the lead in spreading Internet usage, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo) said on its Web site.

According to the group and local press reports, Shehhi was sentenced to one year in prison, and his Web site was closed, earlier this month, by a court in Ras Al Khaimah, one of seven emirates that make up the UAE, after a local official sued the Web site and its owner for defamation.

Cairo-based HRInfo, which posts information about human rights in the Arab world on its portal, said the alleged defamation by an unknown user on the Web site, which provided a forum for debate of local issues, did not amount to more than "political criticism" of a civil servant.

A hearing in the appeal against the sentence handed to Shehhi, who was ordered to pay a fine of 50,000 dirhams ($13,600) and Dh 20,000 in compensation to the official, is scheduled for August 26, the local press reported.

HRInfo said the harsh sentence was passed despite the fact that Shehhi should not be held accountable for the writings of users on his Web site (majan.net).

The group, which said it would approach UAE leaders over the case, reported that another writer on the same Web site, Khaled Al Asli, was arrested in Ras Al Khaimah August 19. It called for both his release and the quashing of the "unjust" sentence against Shehhi.

Scores of regional and international news organizations operate out of Dubai, another UAE member that hosts twin Internet and media "cities," but most local media in the oil-rich Gulf country is government-guided.


original article HERE

The website in question is majan.net;

more information on the case is available on the following links (use translate.google.com to help you)

http://www.hrinfo.net/press/2007/pr0821.php
http://www.alkhaleej.ae/articles/show_article.cfm?val=414798

11 comments:

Kyle said...

Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, United States Supreme Court (1944) knew what he meant when he coined this term;

"One of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures - and that means not only informed and responsible criticism but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation”

But I vehemently endorse that this term applies in essence to every human being that walks this Earth.

ColOman said...

It really depends on what they said on the site. They could be defaming the person

DXBluey said...

Coloman - I am knee gerking here - however from what I have read that does not appear to be the case.

Should the owner of the site be responsible for the comments of someone else?

Even if it is - 1 year in prison for deformation? Hmmm?

samuraisam said...

The website in question is majan.net;

more information on the case is available on the following links (use translate.google.com to help you)

http://www.hrinfo.net/press/2007/pr0821.php
http://www.alkhaleej.ae/articles/show_article.cfm?val=414798

SevenSummits said...

In English :-)

Cheers from a very happy German :- )
[2:1 defeat against England in Wembley in front of 86000!!!]

Anonymous said...

http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2007/08/22/uae-online-forum-administrator-sentenced-to-prison/

It's a bit scary and unbelievable.......I mean: of course we all read on the net about the Kuwaiti and Egyptian case, but here, next door....makes you think: is it worth it?

Seabee said...

The laws of libel should apply to anything written for public viewing, whether it's in mainstream media or on a blog. I have no problem with that principle.

But I do have a major problem with justified criticism being punished as a crime.

I also have a major problem with the owner of a website being held responsible for the comments left by readers.

secretdubai said...

Basically I'm with seabee on this.

"the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation”

I am a huge advocate of free speech as most of you know, but I don't agree with people being able to defame others with impunity, particularly when motivated by malice.

However, I do believe one should be able to criticise fairly, particularly public figures who should be accountable to the public. Based on the (scant) evidence available to me thus far, I abhor the RAK court's decision.

It is all the more bizarre given that RAK is trying to establish itself as a media hub, with its own media free zone.

Unfortunately as we all know, especially those of us in media, the UAE publications law are nebulous enough to be completely useless, and defamation suits are generally wasta based.

The irony is that the people who should be most subject to public scrutiny - the rich, powerful, sheikhly and political figures - are generally the ones that are most immune to it. Not just in the UAE but in most other authoritarian states and dictatorships - however "benevolent" - worldwide.

Anonymous said...

for a minute i thought it was 'emarati' and i was so happy but..............

SevenSummits said...

I fully agree with Kyle and hope against hope that the freedom of expression will be guaranteed under international law to each and every human being on this earth. So much to my humble VISION in regards to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, The European Convention on HRs, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the global political will to implement “good governance”. Back to reality! Absolute compliance with my vision is certainly lacking almost everywhere and we need to accept (and respect!!!) the fact that the UAE are not a liberal democracy and the majority of its citizens do not share our “values” in this regard.

We could have a long discourse about the concept of “defamation”, if the doctrine of substantial truth is not sufficient and how much it will or will not benefit society to have truthful information brought to light. It will end up in dead end of misunderstanding! Equally hopeless would be the attempt to discuss the lousy translation of the Federal Law (Law No 2 of 2006), because in a way we could do this all in a happy group discussion in Prisoner Cell block C (pls don’t put me in a cell with Emirati :- )), because there can certainly be something found in this nebulous legal text that we are guilty of (e.g.: Anyone found opposing Islam will be jailed up to seven years!)
Finally we have also all seen on this blog that it is not only the government that has a major with justified criticism, so why are we only pointing a finger in one direction?


But there is a different, optional view as well:
I certainly do not know what the government’s paranoia with a selected group of “national” intellectual dissidents is all about, however one also needs to consider that besides their responsibility of assuring internal stability, it is especially us Westerners that are having high expectations in their intelligence services.

We do not really know the background information to this particular case and from my experience, if there is not that much to be concerned about, such cases can usually with a little fluidity and the mutual will of both parties be sorted out quietly. However it may also be the case that the government has a reason to be concerned and that the cry for international attention under the mantle of HR violations is merely a cover up for a “personal unethical and counterproductive” agenda.

Most of you will know me for my substantive criticism of the unsustainable development in the region and my concerns about the dysfunctional justice system, however nothing beneficial will ever be achieved within an environment of social instability and especially not without acknowledging (plus respecting) the role of the decision makers in this reform process.

Sometimes our strong Western desire to implement our norms and values makes us blind to take a closer look at what exactly is going on. Myself included! As being one of the major initiators of a campaign (together with some of the most known professors from the top US universities, as well as a group of international dignitaries) that gave the UAE government quiet some headache, which was partially unfounded :- (, I can now witness on thousands of websites how easily those available international instruments can so easily be misused as well. I initially thought that I was defending a “noble cause”, but eventually realized that maybe this originally good intention was not necessarily benefiting the development of the UAE society. So even while I was formulating the petition with colleagues, some of us knew that there was more to the story, than what was on that piece of paper and we felt that the greater objective was definitely worth it. Sounds familiar doesn’t it! The entire issue had a snowball effect and suddenly everyone out there added a few more points they wanted to always get of their chest (including freedom of expression) and wow a few month later, I started reading in the news, how the UAE government was defending itself for being accused of something that they have not even done. Talk about guilt! A lot of guilt! …. and if those government officials involved. e.g. the Minister of Justice, would be approachable (as in the West or many other nations), they would have certainly received an official letter of apology from me. But what is the point in writing something they will not even get? Most certainly it is also part of our Western value system to show responsibility for your mistakes and especially adhere to the truth! Everything else is absolutely unethical! (and I never wanted to get involved in a serious web of lies!)

I hope that this story will contribute to all those that will easily cry for the “Human Rights” agenda and have a second thought about finding out the truth first, instead of playing the “B” (for “blame”) game, while pointing the finger at the government!

Please remember that while those dissidents are still on a government payroll (and that is generous, isn’t it?), they could easily – if they felt so terribly oppressed – request political asylum in the West and carry on with their lives abroad. Nobody is doing that – (except maybe one current exception that I know of) - so it can not be all that bad from their point of view after all.

Please send your hate mails and death threats to sevensummitsuae@yahoo.com
(BTW the government knows who I am, so you do not need to be overly concerned :- ) )

rosh said...

Thanks for looking at the other side of the fence a little more closer 7S :)

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