A blogger in Kuwait is facing court action after posting a bad review of a local restaurant, in a case that could set a precedent for defamation laws in the Gulf state.
Mark Makhoul, a Lebanese blogger in court, is being sued by Las Palmas Company – which owns the newly-owned Benihana franchise – for KD5,001 (about 17,878), after the firm claimed he damaged the reputation of the restaurant with a series of “offensive” claims made on his blog.
Makhoul had said that when he and his wife had eaten at the Asian outlet, their food had been undercooked.
Makhoul’s crimes, it specified, were “the damages caused… [by] encouraging large numbers of customers not to try the restaurant by insulting and doubting the quality of food served.”
The firm implied Makhoul’s review could be a detriment to its expansion plans in the region, and said it had “invested huge amounts of money to set-up the restaurant.”
Makhoul, who runs the popular site www.248am.com, has received a flood of support on Twitter and from other bloggers, and has said he will stand by his review and is receiving legal advice.
“Benihana have the right to sue me but I don’t believe I said or did anything wrong and I stand behind everything I said and wrote in that post,” he wrote on his blog.
“If I end up losing this case what will it mean to all the other bloggers? Should bloggers be afraid to say anything negative about a company? Should all our posts just be ‘happy happy, joy joy?’”
The outcome of the case – thought to be the first of its kind in the Middle East involving a corporate chain and a blog site – could have widespread implications, Makhoul said.
“It doesn’t just affect me but the whole blogging community; be it in Kuwait, UAE or anywhere else in the region,” he wrote.
The review itself accused Benihana, an Asian eatery featuring live cooking stations, of serving up poorly cooked food.
“The chicken was very chewy (I could swear it was undercooked if not raw) and tasted terrible.
Even the rice and the veggies that came with it tasted bad AND were under cooked,” Makhoul wrote.
“Would I go back to Benihana? No I wouldn’t. Their sashimi and makis are pretty cheap (KD1.5 for 5 pieces of Salmon sashimi for example) but there are two other Japanese restaurants at the Avenues, Wasabi and Maki, and I would prefer either one of those to Benihana.”
Las Palmas Co operates a string of international restaurant franchises in Kuwait, including Subway, Charlie’s Grill Subs and Jump Asian Fast Food.