In the Middle East, extra caution is needed when posting seemingly harmless photos or videos on the Internet.
On Thursday, the news site Emirates 24|7 said an Asian household service worker in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) faced the court not only for allegedly stealing her employer’s camera but also for posting the family’s photos on Facebook, which they considered as a violation of their privacy.
The employer’s daughter “was surfing her Facebook account when she stumbled across her family’s picture,” which led to the mother reporting the incident to the police.
The report did not identify the maid or her employer in Abu Dhabi. The case is adjourned until February 5.
About two weeks before this incident, Emirates 24|7 reported that in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), health officials started conducting an investigation on several videos posted on YouTube, which show Asian nurses—including those believed to be Filipinos—dancing at a “mixed gender birthday party” in a government hospital there.
The news site said the nurses, believed to be from the Philippines and Indonesia, were “involved in the concert that included music and dances” at a birthday party in King Fahd Hospital in the eastern town of Hofouf.
Gatherings such as that birthday party are “strictly banned at Saudi hospitals and other public facilities,” the report added.
The videos, all posted on January 9, were titled and commented on in Arabic.
One of the videos was titled “Scandal, King Fahd Hospital in Hofuf – NEW 2012,” where a female nurse wearing a white knitted bonnet is briefly carried by a man before she walks to the door, dancing.
Another one, posted by user najmksa111, was tagged “Lack of control at King Fahd Hofuf.” It shows two pairs of female nurses dancing with their party hats on to the tune of “Mambo No. 5.”
Toward the end of the video, one of the dancing nurses was heard saying: “Nawawala na ako.”
Saudi Health Department information director Ibrahim Al Hajji confirmed that they have started a probe, but he did not disclose “what measures would be taken against those involved in the party,” Emirates 24|7 said.
Internet usage in Arab countries
According to the website al-Bab.com, “Arab countries lagged behind most of the world in adopting the Internet” because of its cost and the difficulty of using Arabic in computer systems.
However, the site added that “having accepted the inevitability of the Internet, the first instinct of Arab regimes was to look for ways to control it.”
“This was based partly on their fears of political subversion but also on the fears of conservative and religious elements that would undermine ‘traditional’ values—fears that in both cases were well-founded,” it said.
Governments of the UAE and KSA have issued their own sets of rules on Internet usage, mostly rooted on grounds of religion and conservatism.
On its website, the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation–Etisalat provided a list of “Prohibited Content Categories” in the UAE, which include:
- online dating or matchmaking sites;
- gambling sites, including those with sports picks and horse, car, or boat racing;
- sites with hacking codes; and
- sites providing unlicensed Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service (which, in turn, blocks Skype).
A separate post from the OpenNet Initiative—which investigates and analyzes Internet filtering and surveillance practices “in a credible and non-partisan fashion”—said that the government of UAE “censors political and religious content and pervasively filters sites that contain pornography or content relating to alcohol and drug use, gay and lesbian issues…”
“Additionally, legal controls limit free expression and behavior, restricting political discourse and dissent online,” it said.
Etisalat, however, noted that among the exemptions are chatting services and social networking sites.
Last year, Emirates 24|7 said that majority of Internet users in the UAE go online to access their Facebook profiles.
In KSA’s case, al-Bab.com said Internet users are prohibited from “publishing or accessing” the following:
- Anything contravening a fundamental principle or legislation, or infringing the sanctity of Islam, or breaching public decency;
- Anything contrary to the state or its system;
- Reports of news damaging to the Saudi Arabia armed forces, without the approval of competent authorities;
- Anything damaging to the dignity of heads of states or heads of credited diplomatic missions in the kingdom, or that harms relations with those countries;
- Any false information ascribed to state officials or those of private or public domestic institutions and bodies that may damage their integrity;
- Subversive ideas or the disruption of public order or disputes among citizens; and
- Any slanderous or libelous material against individuals.
‘Respect their culture’
When GMA News Online solicited advice from OFW rights advocates based in the KSA regarding the case of the “dancing nurses,” they said that Filipino workers there must learn to respect the culture of their host country and be wary of posting their “memories” online.
Joseph Espiritu, who is currently based in Riyadh, said there might have been a few violations in the nurses’ case because of the following:
- While one is free to celebrate his or her birthday with friends, he or she cannot do so in the workplace and with liquor, illegal drugs, or gambling.
- Women can dance too, but not in public and not in mixed gender crowds, especially if they’re dancing with men who are not their husbands.
Espiritu said he believes this case would be “tolerable” if the hospital’s manager or head knows about the party.
“Hindi naman maaaring hulihin at ikulong ang lahat ng nandoon. Pinakaunang hanapin diyan ay kung sino ang organizer or kung kanino nakapangalan ang bahay kung saan nagkaroon ng party, or ang head at manager kung sa work place man ito nangyari. Hindi rin makakapayag ang ospital na mawalan nang ganoong karaming nurses dahil sa pagkakamali na ‘yan,” he said.
However, he added: “Bansa nila ito at dapat lang na respetuhin natin ang kanilang batas, tradisyon, at kultura. Kung hindi n’yo kayang sundin at talagang hilig n’yo ang pagsasayaw, then mag-ingat na lang kayo, lalo na ngayon na lahat ay may video camera at napakadaling ilagay sa YouTube.” – VVP, GMA News