A new Saudi law governing new media – blogs, social media, and the like – is waiting for Cabinet approval. It would put disputes about libel, slander, and defamation before a specialized court operating under Shariah principles. I believe nearly all laws seeking to control media are not good things in general. There are already (rather vague) laws that punish gossiping, libel, and slander (ghibah, if the statement is true but uncomfortable for the target; buhtan, if false) as well as tale-telling or backbiting (namima). They are considered to be terrible sins, worse than adultery according to some ahadith, like eating the flesh of one’s own dead brother, according to another. It appears that this will be the focus of the court. This does not bode well for free speech, however.
The reason is that it is the sensibility of the one who is offended that triggers action and that truth is no defense. All that is necessary is that one’s feeling are hurt. Judges will not have a hard time determining that someone’s feeling were hurt: the victim is standing in front of them. There’s no way to disprove hurt feelings.
To be safe, Saudi bloggers or users of Facebook and Twitter had simply best be quiet. That, in fact, may be the goal of this law, to simply shut down social commentary. If the law were to be applied uniformly, across society, Saudi Arabia would become a very silent place.
Shariah press courts awaits Cabinet reading
Omar Elmershedi | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Special draft legislation to deal with media activities has been approved by the Lajnah Al-Khubra (Experts Committee), a source at the committee told Saudi Gazette recently.
The legislation, which refers all disputes and claims to a specialized branch of courts under the existing Shariah court system, awaits its first reading by the Council of Ministers, the source said.
The legislation was drafted in response to a Shoura (Consultative) recommendation made a year and a half ago.
The Shoura Council had first suggested establishment of specialized Shariah courts to deal with compensation for the maligned or injured parties in areas such as public rights in traffic violations, sports contracts, violation of building codes, and the import of substandard material and products.