JEDDAH: Saudi cleric Saeed bin Farwah was convicted in a defamation case and sentenced to 45 days in prison for verbally assaulting a Saudi actor last Ramadan.
TV star Nasser Al-Qassabi, best known for his socially controversial TV series, sued Farwah who reportedly defamed him by accusing him of being an “infidel.”
The cleric called him “infidel” over an episode of his Ramadan series “Selfie” last year, which mocked religious men who break musical instruments.
The “Selfie” series addresses social issues in Saudi society and presents them in a comedic theme.
The case took a year in the legal system before the Court of Appeal in Assir finally endorsed the verdict issued by a court in Uhud Rufidah province.
Abdulrahman Al-Lahem, Al-Qassabi’s lawyer, said that only Al-Qassabi can pardon the defendant because the case does not involve a public right.
“The defendant has been sentenced in accordance with the Saudi law,” lawyer Majed Garoub told Arab News.
Garoub, an expert in fighting cybercrimes, said the ruling sends several messages to people. “First, it sends a message on how comprehensive the Saudi legal system is in all cases. Second, the legal system in Saudi Arabia preserves people’s rights and dignity from unlawful assault, either through words or opinions.”
He said the third message to be taken from the verdict is that everyone must know that there are clear limits between freedom of expression and verbal assault on either individuals or institutions.
“Freedom of expression is restricted by not prejudicing any party or entity,” he added.
Garoub said that the sentence confirmed many legal and religious lessons that would benefit society.
People should first have full confidence in the legal system, and, second, overcome the shame culture in litigation.
“It is very important to take legal action against all those who attack or insult individuals, society or institutions,” Garoub said.
Al-Qassabi tweeted Tuesday that there is “no immunity for anyone no matter how long their beards or short their thobe is (signs of religious men). People’s dignity is preserved by the law and nobody is usurping the role of the state.”
The Saudi actor added that today’s crisis is takfirism (intolerance for opposing thoughts) and “from now on, there won’t be defamation without punishment.”
Al-Qassabi received harsh criticism from conservatives this year as well, where he starred in an episode discussing thorny issues in Saudi society.