The definition of ‘Nobness’ – the UAE, social media defamation and differing views from the Gulf

It’s that time of year again. I don’t mean Ramadan of course, the month of charity and kindness, but rather the time of year when we read about a case of defamation. Over the past week there was an outcry in Australia following the arrest of an Australian national in the UAE following comments she put up on Facebook. To quote from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website:

In February, Jodi Magi, 39, took a photo of a car in her Abu Dhabi apartment block that was parked across two disabled parking spaces, without any disability stickers.

She blacked out the number plate and put the photo on Facebook, drawing attention to the seemingly selfish act, but not providing any identifying details or names.

However, someone in the apartment block complained to police and the case went to an Abu Dhabi court in June.

Ms Magi, who has lived in Abu Dhabi since 2012, said she was forced to sign multiple documents in Arabic without any translation.

Two weeks ago (at the beginning of July) she was found guilty of “writing bad words on social media about a person” and told she would be deported.

Magi was deported this week from the UAE following intense media coverage. Her argument was that she didn’t know what she’d done wrong in her Facebook post (which you can see below). Her words were considered to be insulting by the complainant, who wasn’t mentioned in the post, and the court agreed with the complainant and, based on the country’s defamation laws (which I’ve written about here), found Magi guilty, fined her, and sentenced her to be deported.

This is the post which got Magi deported. Magi claimed that nobness referred to an Australian term for the elite, rather than the English insult (image source: Facebook)

This is the post which got Magi deported. Magi claimed that nobness referred to an Australian term for the elite, rather than the English insult (image source: Facebook)

While I’m not going to share my views on this (there’s plenty of comments both for and against the issue, but the law is the law), I will share views and thoughts from the rest of the Gulf where double parking is all too common and where the issue is being raised on social media. First up is Bahrain, where there is an Instagram account called Bahrainidiots. Bahrain’s residents are encouraged to share their images of cars which are double-parked for publication on the account’s Instagram feed – for some pictures have a look below.

View this post on Instagram

بالعرض… Thx jay for the picture

A post shared by You Park Like An Idiot – Bh (@bahrainidiots) on

Similarly, Saudi social media users often share such images, especially on Twitter using the handle #برج_الكلب. Some recent images are below.

The most interesting comments about the issue of defamation came from Doha. Speaking to the English-language news site Doha News, criminal attorney and Qatar’s former justice minister Dr. Najeeb Al Nuaimi said it was “highly unlikely” that an expat or Qatari would be arrested for posting a similar picture as Qatar and the UAE differ in their definitions of defamation. To quote:

“In the UAE, this (incident) is seen as ‘you’re showing someone in a bad light’ or that you’re questioning the duty of the police. They didn’t do their job well, and have let this happen, and now you’re posting it and offending them,” he said.

Here, however, the local government would regard sharing such a photo as a “a mark of public service,” he added, continuing:

“We have Qataris posting all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (about) things that they don’t like, or wrong things that they see…Here, it’s seen as doing something good.”

One of the publications which wrote about the case, the Abu Dhabi-based English-language daily The National quoted senior Abu Dhabi prosecutor Mohammed Al Dhanhani who explained that Magi was guilty under the 2012 Federal Anti-Information Technology Crimes Law No 5.

“She captured the picture without the consent of the (car’s) owner. She then published the pictures on the web and added insulting phrases.”

Each of these three actions is subject to prosecution under the law, which punishes all violators with a fine and/or jail, and deportation for all expatriates without exceptions, he said.

In an irony not lost on this blogger, while Magi’s state of affairs was playing out The National started its own photo gallery on bad parking in the UAE and posted images on its own website. Based on Al Dhanhani’s own interpretation of the law, is The National also guilty of the same offense under which Magi was sanctioned by capturing pictures without the consent of the car’s owner and then publishing these on the web?

For any lawyers out there, am I right or wrong?