Al-Juhani accuses the head of al-Huta’s environmental health section of trying to pressure more than 200 shop owners into paying 5,000 Saudi riyals (US$1,333) each as a contribution to the annual banquet the municipality gives to mark the end of the fasting month Ramadan. The article says that the health inspector abused his position by threatening to impose fines against the shop owners if they failed to comply. Al-Juhani told Human Rights Watch that his sources were shop owners, a high municipal official, and a local journalist.
Al-Juhani also told Human Rights Watch that the health official filed a complaint against al-Juhani, asking the court to punish him and award official damages for harm suffered. The prosecutor, on December 6, 2010, charged al-Juhani with criminal defamation. Al-Juhani should not be criminally prosecuted for what he wrote, regardless of the truth of his allegations, because of the chilling effect of criminal sanctions on peaceful expression, Human Rights Watch said. If the official considers the article defamatory, he should file a civil suit for compensation for any claimed harm to his reputation. In considering civil suits, Saudi courts should consider the importance of freedom of expression in respecting the right of journalists to write about public figures.
Saudi Arabia has no written criminal law defining defamation or any attendant penalties. Defining the elements of a crime and any penalty remains up to the individual judge’s interpretation of Sharia precepts. In addition to the country’s Sharia courts, there are executive tribunals for labor, commercial, and media disputes under the respective ministries. Although the tribunal judging press violations is not an independent court, in several cases Saudi journalists preferred that this executive body rather than Sharia courts review matters relating to the media. Sharia courts in the 2005 and 2006 have tried cases for criminal defamation in media publications before ministerial instructions transferred them to the Culture and Information Ministry.via hrw.org