February 1st, 2010


"The fundamental basis of free speech is the flame." -dpp

Insulting email, SMS can land you in prison
Web posted at: 1/31/2010 6:53:32

DOHA: Giving vent to your anger through email or SMS can land you in jail, so better exercise restraint and switch off your mobile and laptop immediately if you are upset with someone.

At least two persons, both of them expatriates, have paid a huge price for sending abusive SMS and email to people they were angry with.

Both the cases went to court and while one walked away being fined QR1,000, the other case is still being heard. According to lawyers, it is obviously easy for a recipient of a hate or abusive or defamatory mail or SMS to make a case as the written word is the proof. Qatari laws have incorporated provisions to punish insulting SMS and emails and punishment can be jail up to three years or fine up to QR10,000 or both for insulting someone in public.

Abusive private SMS and emails, on the other hand, can attract jail terms up to three months and or fine up to QR1,000.

I've lived in Qatar 5.5 years, and I had no idea there was an actual law against insulting people.

Qatar has certainly advocated a middle road when it comes to freedom of speech -- a balance between freedom and responsibility. The Constitution, for example, assures "freedom of expression ... according to the conditions and circumstances to be stipulated by the law," which I find an interesting approach, since I always thought the point of protecting rights in a Constitution was so they couldn't be eroded by statutory law.

However, unless "insult" is somehow a tragic mistranslation of "threaten with imminent bodily harm," it's hard to imagine how such a law could ever be reconciled with any level of freedom of speech.