Recent Omani Web/Press Defamation Judgement

Newspaper Defamation
(Photo credits: birdfarm)

The Supreme Court in Oman recently confirmed the reversal of a judgement holding a newspaper reporter guilty of defamation for referring in an article he wrote on the newspaper to a website containing defamatory statements of a person. The decision of the Supreme Court was reported two days ago by Al Shabiba Newspaper here (available in Arabic only).

It is hard to know what the exact facts of the case are from the decision as the case was tried before the Elementary Court and the Court of Appeal before getting the Supreme Court. Apparently what happened was that a women was defamed on a website, then the reporter wrote an article on the newspaper criticising some websites that defame people. The reporter had to go to court because it was claimed that what he wrote also amounted to defamation.

I am not sure what the article exactly said, but the article mentioned (1) the name of the defamatory website and (2) that it was published on the website that an “unnamed” female chairman of a company reached her position because she had a sexual relationship with an ambassador. This story was cited in the article as an example of defamation going online.

The prosecution argued saying:

فقد قام المتهم خلال شبكة المعلومات في الجريدة تحت غطاء النقد لما ينشر من خلال شبكة المعلومات إلا أنه في حقيقة الأم قد قصد الإساءة إلى المجني عليها وليس أدل على ذلك من قيامه بالإفصاح عن اسم وبيانات الموقع الذي يسيء إلى المجني عليها ويطعن في سمعتها وشرفها وأنها قد وصلت على منصبها كرئيس لمجلس ……………. لارتباطها بعلاقة غير أخلاقية بالسفير الأمر الذي فتح الباب أمام الكافة وأثار فضولهم للدخول على الموقع المشار إليه والاطلاع على ما يمس شرف وكرامة المجني عليها وحياتها الخاصة

What the first defendant published under the cloak of criticism was intended to attack the victim. The proof of this was the fact that he disclosed the name and the details of the defamatory website and that she reached her position because of her sexual relationship with the ambassador. This made the public curious to go to the website to learn about the violation of the honour of the victim and her private life.

The court said that for the crime of defamation to take place two elements must be established, (1) statements of defamation, and (2) making these statements in public.

ما يتعين إثباته في حكم الإدانة بجريمة إهانة الكرامة أمران : أولهما عبارات الإهانة، وثانيهما علانية الإسناد

The court held that the article was not defamatory because it did not mention the name of the victim, it did contain anything insulting of her or anything descriptive of her personal life. It also said that the arguments provided by the prosecution were “unsavory, unacceptable, and without any legal basis” as the article “criticised these websites and demanded they stop defaming people”. The court concluded that the original judgement is to be reversed as no defamation took place.

While this might now seem obvious, it was not obvious to the Elementary Court as it held the newspaper reporter guilty of defamation. The Supreme Court only held that defamation did not take place because the article did not mention the name of the victim.

We can learn from this case that defamation can occur throughout a chain. The fact that you are reporting (or blogging) about an incident of defamation can easily make you liable for it as well if what you write can be considered as defamatory statements even if these statements did not necessarily originate from you and you are merely reporting current events.

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