When expats around the world log on to blog their experiences and opinions they may have presumed that their musings, negative or positive, were a fundamental part of their right to free speech on the internet. However, recent examples of legal action against the online community suggest that our perceived bloggers rights could be under threat.
The Middle East is a case in point with Saudi Arabia beginning 2011 by introducing a law to license website owners. The law that comes into effect next month will mean that anyone who writes on a blog will need to meet a list of obligations or face a penalty charge. Interestingly, one of the listed requirements is that they must be a Saudi national, so not overly encouraging news for expats then.
And it’s not just governments that are looking to control online conversations its big brands too with this week’s example of an expat blogger in Kuwait who has been targeted by Japanese restaurant chain Benihana for his ‘disparaging’ comments regarding one of their new restaurants.
Mark Makhoul and his blog, 248am.com came under legal fire this week for posting a negative restaurant review of Benihana. The restaurant is seeking monetary damages and for the offending blog, 248am.com, to be shut down. Not surprisingly Mark is less than impressed commenting “I thought it was a bluff, but yesterday a court order was served.”
We have all witnessed unfair bloggers rants online but Marks comments about the restaurants food were comparatively chaste even complementing the good service and friendliness of the restaurants staff. However Mark’s suggestion that future diners should seek out Benihana’s neighboring competitors for their Japanese fix angered Mike Servo the GM of the company who in a written response to Mark stated ‘You mentioned clearly on a detour way on not to go to Benihana and go to Maki or Wasabi or Chocolate Bar and we believe that this is against the law of Kuwait.’
Needless to say the online community has rallied round Mark expressing their outrage on twitter and sending his previous modest blog comments soaring with messages of support.
However regardless of our indignation at Benihani’s ill conceived legal vendetta the trial has been set for March the 8th leaving us worried about the precedent it may set for the expat bloggers of Kuwait and the future of our freedom to blog