A verdict without precedents



THE Criminal Court in Jeddah recently issued an unprecedented ruling that will be recorded in the history of the Saudi judicial system.

This court ruling acquitted a Saudi citizen of the charges framed by the prosecution for publishing a video clip that negatively targeted Saudi society. He was also acquitted of defaming a number of officials, including the head of a university.

The judgment pointed out that the man had directed his criticism to a certain group in a sarcastic style and he did not generalize society as a whole. The judge considered what the man did as part of his freedom of expression.

Here I ask my readers to concentrate on two important things in this piece of news. The first is the logic of our courts in speaking in clear language about a matter that is concerned with the rights of citizens, which includes the freedom to criticize and express one’s opinion without prejudice toward others.

The second important thing to note here is that we are at a stage at our courts where expression and statements may not be seen as an abuse, because the person criticized wants to silence the person criticizing to get at him and make an example of him to others.

For many years, or maybe decades, there have been officials in our country who thought of themselves as above criticism. They behaved as if no one has the right to question them or raise the slightest of criticisms against them.

They see any criticism against them or against their place of work as abuse. They even consider it abuse against society, since they believe that they represent society.

There is a big difference between abuse and criticism. It is worth noting that if we said that an official is behaving badly with people and does not comply with their repeated demands, then that is constructive criticism.

If we, however, start to dig the private life of an official and begin to expose him and his family, then that is abuse. As everyone can see, the difference here is quite obvious. We wish if officials in their positions would realize that.