A member of Emirates cabin crew has been sacked by the airline and fined Dh20,000 (approximately $5,400 USD) by a Dubai court after being found guilty of defamation – the crew member of Pakistani descent had been accused of using social media, including Facebook, to mock his employer by using photoshopped photos of fellow crew and passengers.
According to the Gulf News, the airline “lodged a police complaint against the steward for allegedly slandering Emirates airline’s reputation on Facebook.” The article continued: “According to the charges, prosecutors said the Pakistani suspect derided Emirates by posting photos and videos of slanderous and offensive content on Facebook.”
Unlike in Europe and the United States, defamation and slander are treated as a criminal offence in the UAE rather than a civil matter. Suspects can face a maximum of two years imprisonment and expat residents can even be deported at the will of the court. The crew member, in this case, received the maximum fine allowable by law.
The UAE has come in for international criticism over its tough cybercrime laws that human rights defenders claim criminalise free speech. Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights activist, recently had his 10-year jail sentence for defaming the UAE on social media upheld by the country’s Federal Supreme Court.
Mansoor’s crime had been to insult the “status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” as well as its leaders.
In this latest case, the Dubai-based government-owned Emirates said the suspect had slandered the airline and its reputation. The airline lodged an official police complaint and the case was taken up by Dubai’s Cybercrime Section. Emirates said it found out the identity of the crew member, who had been using a fake Facebook profile when he posted a picture of a staff ID badge on social media.
But while the suspect had disguised the face and name on the badge, investigators were still able to use the badge barcode number to look up the user on the airline’s internal employment database. When questioned by police, the crew member said his Facebook account had been hacked and his details fraudulently used. He said he had the utmost of respect for Emirates and wouldn’t do anything to harm the reputation of the airline.
The suspect pleaded not guilty when the case originally went to court in October but was found guilty of the offence on Wednesday. The ex-crew member maintains his innocence and the case has now gone to the Appeals Court.
A popular but secret Facebook group for cabin crew from a number of Middle Eastern airlines to share jokes, stories, and memes about the job appears to still be up and running but has not had any new posts for nearly a year.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch said of the UAE:
“While it fervently claims to be a progressive, tolerant and rights-respecting state, over the past several years, the UAE has become worryingly unsafe for academics, journalists, activists, and critics alike.”