Comparison of Defamation Laws in Saudi Arabia and the United States
A religious leader sued a social media activist in Saudi Arabia, claiming that the activist had made defamatory remarks against him in a video post. The activist’s video post was made on an online forum that fights for women and children rights. It criticized the Saudi religious leader for declaring that Muslim men can marry even young girls and permitted fathers to marry off their very young daughters. In the video, the activist compared the religious leader and all those who supported their views as rapists. The activist was found guilty of committing a criminal offence and was sentenced to seven years in prison and 800 lashes.
The questions in the case are;
- Were the actions of the social media activist defamatory according to Saudi Arabia laws?
- What was the plaintiff required to prove in a similar case in the United States courts?
In Saudi Arabia, although defamation is considered a criminal offence, no written criminal law defines the acts of defamation or the penalties that result from these acts. Moreover, truth is not recognized as a defense in these cases. Here, any insults to Islam are taken as religious defamation, and their punishment ranges from imprisonment to death penalty. In this case, the acts of criticizing the religious leader were considered as religious defamation or blasphemy by the court resulting in the punishment given to the activist.
In the United States, a lawsuit against a public individual involves proving actual malice whereby there should be knowledge of falsity or that the truth was recklessly disregarded. A plaintiff has to prove that at the time of revealing the information there was a reckless disregard of the truth. It involves showing that the one who revealed the defamatory information had a high probability of knowing it was false. A similar case in the United States would have required the plaintiff to prove that the activist had enough time to investigate the issue, the source of information used was reliable and trustworthy and whether there was a high likelihood, the story was true.