Three expats in Qatar have been convicted by a misdemeanor court in Doha of defaming their children’s principal and other school officials on Facebook.
The parents were apparently upset about tuition fee increases at the Philippine School Doha and vented their frustrations online.
However, the lawyer representing the school said their comments included false personal attacks against the principal that alleged he engaged in activities that are illegal in Qatar.
The incident took place in October 2013, but a verdict was only rendered this month.
In total, five Filipino expats between the ages of 40 and 52 were charged under Qatar’s defamation law.
Three were convicted and each were handed a five-month suspended jail sentence and a QR1,000 fine.
Typically, defendants convicted of suspended sentences go on probation and avoid jail if their record remains clear for a certain period of time.
The case was also referred to Qatar’s Civil Court, which means the convicted parents may be forced to financially compensate the school and its officials for any hardship they caused.
Speaking to Doha News, Noura Sarhan – the school’s lawyer – disputed previous media reports about the case that the school’s tuition had been sharply increased. She said the school recognizes that parents may be earning modest salaries and watch tuition increases anxiously.
“It was not an exorbitant increase,” Sarhan said. She added that like most schools, tuition fee increases at the Philippine School Doha need to be approved by Qatar’s Supreme Education Council.
The exact size of the tuition fee increase that upset the parents is not known. The school’s principal could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, and an official at the Philippines Embassy – which sponsors the school – declined to comment on the case.
Defamation in Qatar
According to Sarhan, anything said in public that would negatively affect the reputation of a person or cause emotional harm to their family is illegal in Qatar.
The country, like other GCC states, treats defamation as a criminal offense. These laws are at least partially a legacy of British colonial rule and were previously used to keep local populations in line, according to Matt Duffy, who is an expert on journalism and media laws in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, he told Doha News that threats of jail time are “pretty out of alignment with how many international courts are handling defamation these days.”
Duffy, who teaches media law at Kennesaw State University in the US, argued that it is more desirable to have an environment where matters of public importance can be freely debated.
In countries with criminal defamation laws on the books, a complaint could theoretically lead to an individual being arrested and held in jail before appearing in court, he said.
“That’s a huge encumbrance to speak freely,” he said.
He argued that justice could still be served by using the civil court system, which can still levy financial penalties large enough to dissuade others from making harmful, public statements about identifiable individuals.
“But if it is done in such a way (with) no chance of jail, we don’t necessarily squelch discussions of matters of public importance,” Duffy said.
However, Qatar and other GCC states have recently strengthened criminal defamation provisions by passing new cybercrime laws.
Qatar’s version, which was passed last fall, makes it illegal to spread “false news,” libel or slander a person online as well as publish any news, pictures, audio or video recordings related to the personal or family life of individuals that violate the country’s social value or principles.
While it’s not clear why the cybercrime provisions were not used in this case, many countries prohibit individuals from being charged under laws that were passed after the alleged offense took place.
The philipines also treats defamation, libel and slander as criminal and civil offenses, as do many countries
I wouldn’t hold the phillipines up as an example. The scale of corruption is staggering in their political classes. That’s not libel, it’s a fact. Just look up how many cases against current and former politicians. It’s almost a culture
Well I would say philipines because of the relationship to the story, if it were a story about some american’s getting in trouble for breaking a law in Qatar that is also a law in their country, I’d cite their legal system. Is it that people assume freedom of speech has no boundaries, or people sort of reboot when they move to Qatar and disregard laws from back home or laws they’re aware of and just try to adhere to a general code in their heads?
its hardly a criminal offence – but a civil issue – hense a fine not imprisonment if guilty
In the Philippines it’s both criminal and civil, which holds true for quite a few countries.
Yea, medieval countries
And Greece as well, where journalists are sent to prison for defamation
You know it’s one thing if someone slanders you by calling you ugly or smelly online. But when you accuse someone of illegal activities and make accusations of wrong doing, this is defamation of character. People’s live and jobs get turned upside down when people slander your character like this.
Only if people are silly enough to believe unsubstantiated rumours – and unfortunately they often are.
If it’s written it’s libel. Slander is spoken
You remind me of this guy.
Who is that?
It’s spiderman’s boss. When someone accused him of slandering spiderman he said the same thing you said. He was trying to be smart Alex.
Not trying to be smart just using the correct legal terms. In law its important to be precise, otherwise the consequence can be very bad indeed…….
No wonder the legal system is so screwed in Qatar, I just hope you are not a lawyer for the defendents in any cases…..
No wonder the legal system in Qatar is “screwed” because a random poster on DN doesn’t know the correct legal terms for the different forms of defamatory statements?
If that is you’re line of reasoning, well it’s no wonder you rarely make logical comments on here…
Well, it’s correct grammatical terms, law is much more complicated, and online slander vs libel will vary, with many states initially facing difficulty labelling online cases, I’m not sure if the text of the law defines it more clearly in Qatar’s case, the complication in terms is because slander usually meant spoken and libel published, which was much easier to delineate before the advent of self-publishing! Legally, there are further differences with burden of proof, perhaps something a lawyer could comment on!
Precision in language is always useful if you can manage it. Just because people are ignorant doesn’t mean you have to cater to their level!
The modern trendy view of language, that it only requires that the message get through, will eventually end civilization.
It may be too late. You’ve been on the Interwebs – already many people, the yoof especially, have terrible grammar and use wildly distorted idioms. Speaking of which, officially it’s “trying to be a smart aleck”.
I’m not sure it will “eventually end civilization.” but it definitely has the potential to create some serious confusion.
I think you mean “Smart Aleck”. What’s wrong with being corrected? So many people take offence to it here. I thought it was just a normal part of working to make things better.
That’s your interpretation of freedom of speech? What if the person you’re calling smelly or ugly has a sensitive side and decides to commit suicide? What does your sharia law say about that? You and your religion are medieval, your laws are nothing short of savage and you are not going to be hosting any major events any time soon. Unless you’re talking about mass executions in football stadiums where your fat, lazy ignorant cattle will gather to watch
Wow you must have a boring and miserable life if you troll Doha news comment section to spread your hate.
No, i live a full, rich life in a developed country where people are free to say and do what as they please as long as they’re not hurting anyone. Unfortunately your savage hordes are coming into my country trying to impose their sharia law, mutilating little girl’s genital organs, forcing young girls into marriages with men 3 times their age, raping women, dealing drugs, forcing young girls into prostitution, and generally acting like the uncivilised barbarians they’ve been brought up to be. Am i trolling? You betcha.
I don’t understand this comment.
“Typically, defendants convicted of suspended sentences go on probation and avoid jail if their record remains clear for a certain period of time.”
Surely this just describing a suspended sentence so why the use of “typically”.
How hard is it to find out what the school tuition increase was?
Look I know this type of thing is not unique to Qatar (other developing countries with religious or royal family slant) but seriously, if I call a spade a spade I find it difficult to comprehend that I could be placed in jail. The recent GCC laws have said it’s irrelevant if it’s the truth. If someone cheats me, I’m going to call him a cheat to anyone who will listen, it’s like a community service, beware, careful with your money, this person is a cheat. To me, this kinda law is just plain crazy. The benefits far out way the rare mishaps. 2 cents, tick.
It’s to keep those in positions of power in power. It’s a very old game and it works. Qatar learnt from their colonial overlords the same as the Indians did
I was found to be falsely accused of raping a 9 year old Qatarie student.
“Defamation in Qatar
According to Sarhan, anything said in public that would negatively affect the reputation of a person or cause emotional harm to their family is illegal in Qatar”.
I guess it depends on who is doing the accusing as I was unsuccessful in suing my Qatari accusers. I was told by the civil court it was within the law for my accusers to do so.
Justice doesn’t exist in Qatar
Can you prove that?
Anybody who sat threw the 9 months of courts hearings as I did would come to the same conclusion as the Qatarie courts. Which I think says something of my innocence. Unfortunately “noname” highlights why there needs to be a deterrent to highly damaging claims without attempting to minimise any possible damage.
That shouldn’t be okay,
hope things get better for you
Deleting for personal attack.
Impossible to comment on the case as we don’t know what was written. If they accused him of being a paedophile and it is not true that is a serious offense but we just don’t know.
The funny thing is that Qatar uses laws from their colonial overlords.
Never a good idea to slander someone online, especially on facebook which has so many users. However, didn’t they just pardon some Qatari nationals for insulting the royal family online? I would have thought venting frustration about teachers would be a lesser crime.
You have your jurisdictions mixed up, those Qataris were pardoned in the UAE….
“According to Sarhan, anything said in public that would negatively affect the reputation of a person or cause emotional harm to their family is illegal in Qatar”. Even if true? That’s why it is a civil and not criminal offence in developed countries.
The problem with Qatar is that on many occasions an accusation will directly imprison an innocent person until the courts find them not guilty (unless you are involved in the villagio negligent manslaughter case). Imprisonment for accusers would almost sound fair to me.
Ah! Good ol’ freedom of speech…