Issa al-Makhoul, a professor of criminal law at the Damascus University, warned that offences punishable under the cybercrime law do not only cover serious matters but also extend to humour.
“Under the cybercrime law, there must be a distinction between public and private electronic vilification. Accordingly, a standard has been created for WhatsApp groups, based on the group’s nature (i.e. whether the participants know each other or not),” Makhoul told Sham FM radio on Monday.
“Any electronic slander in a WhatsApp group whose members know each other falls under the offence of non-public defamation. The penalty is a fine even if the impugned conduct is a joke. This is because slander covers not only serious matters but also joking,” the law professor said.
As for the public offence of defamation, this occurs through large groups whose members do not know each other.
“No matter how small the joke, the person who says it may be held accountable for the crime of contempt; therefore, people must be careful about joking when using WhatsApp,” he said.
As for the stickers used on WhatsApp, Makhoul said that stickers do not fall under the crime of “obscene speech.” It is possible, however, that the person may allege that someone who made a “sticker” is guilty of contempt if the sticker constitutes an insult.
While human rights organizations assert that Syria’s cybercrime law and its amendments are aimed at disrupting the country’s already-compromised freedoms of opinion and expression, Makhoul said that the law is aimed at “urging people to rise up, as one of the law’s objectives is to restrict dialogue and talk among network users.”
Bashar al-Assad passed Law 20 to reorganize the penal legal rules for cybercrime, “re-framing the crime’s legal structure to include many images and forms of criminal behavior related to information and information systems, which are starting to witness a significant increase in Syria,” according to the regime’s official website.
Depending on the offence committed, the penalty ranges from one month to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 to 15 million Syrian pounds.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.