Following the reported arrest and deportation of an Australian woman from the UAE this week for sharing a photo of a car blocking two handicapped parking spots, Qatar’s former justice minister said the chance of a similar incident happening here is “highly unlikely.”
Many Qatar residents have been reacting to news reports about the police action against the woman, calling it a cautionary tale for those living in the Gulf.
The trouble started in February, when Jodi Magi posted the image on her Facebook page, and was taken to court by someone in her building who complained about the photo.
The 39-year-old artist was tried and found guilty last month of posting “bad words on social media about a person” in an Abu Dhabi court.
Under the UAE’s strict cybercrime laws, Magi was also ordered to pay a fine of some QR13,000 (US $3,600) and told that she would be soon deported.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Magi then tried to “voluntarily deport” herself last week and pay the fine, but was told that she could not leave the country without appearing in court.
When Magi did turn up to pay the fine on Monday, she said she was instead arrested and jailed.
In a Facebook post today, Magi confirmed that she had been released and deported, saying:
“After 53 hours in custody, having been shackled at the ankles, strip-searched, blood tested, forced to sleep on a concrete floor without a mattress or pillow and having no access to toilet paper or eating utensils, I can happily say I AM SAFE & OUT OF JAIL AND ABU DHABI!
“If you think what happened to me was insane, spend a couple of days in an Abu Dhabi jail; I have nothing to complain about compared to the vast majority of women I met whose only crime was being poor, marrying the wrong guy, getting pregnant outside of marriage or/and being victims of rampant and systemic police corruption.”
Reacting to the news in a post on the popular Facebook group When, Where and How in Doha, where residents regularly complain about bad drivers, several members questioned whether Magi’s punishment fit the crime.
But other users said people should be more careful, given the UAE’s strict cybercrime law.
“There is a law in UAE against posting such pics on facebook since some years now. Such pics are to be shared with the police to take action and not to be shared on the social media,” said woman.
However, in an interview with Doha News today, criminal attorney and former justice minister Dr. Najeeb Al Nuaimi said that it was “highly unlikely” that an expat or Qatari would be arrested for posting a similar picture.
That’s because Qatar and the UAE differ in their definitions of slander, libel and public shaming.
“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.”
He referenced the government’s Metrash 2 mobile phone app, through which residents are asked to take photos of and report vehicle violations.
Earlier this year, residents questioned whether they could get in legal trouble for photographing bad drivers. In response, a traffic consultant told Doha News:
“(Other drivers) can give you a hassle, but not legal problems … Once you commit a crime, you don’t have (a right to) privacy,” … This is not Dubai.”
Al Nuaimi added, however, that under Qatar law residents could still be prosecuted for publicly shaming a person or a business.
Last month, he also told Doha News that those who publish videos or photos of victims or pictures related to the personal lives of others without their consent or their family’s approval could be penalized under Qatar’s judicial system.