Mark Makhoul, a blogger living in the Middle East, is now the subject of a US$18,000 lawsuit filed by the Kuwaiti franchisee of global Japanese restaurant chain Benihana. Mark’s crime? Posting a mildly critical restaurant review on his blog, 2:48AM (judge for yourself by reading his review here: http://www.248am.com/mark/kuwait/my-benihana-experience/). We’re sure that you’ll agree with us that a frank but even-handed review, even if negative, does not warrant legal action and that this is not how global brands like Benihana should engage with bloggers.
Despite a massive outcry on blogs, social and mainstream media, both Benihana in Kuwait and Benihana of Tokyo, the New-York based franchisor, have steadfastly refused comment and the court case is, as of the time of writing, still set to commence on the 8th March 2011. Although the suit is for minimum damages of $18,000, it could be for considerably more, being lodged in the distinctly un-blogger-friendly legal system of the state of Kuwait.
Benihana in Kuwait first deleted critical comments from its Facebook page and then blocked anyone who had been outspoken against them. Benihana of Tokyo has not replied to a single request made using the contact form on its website, despite a promise to return comments within 24 hours. Neither has it responded to calls on this from bloggers and journalists.
DEFENDING BLOGGERS‘ RIGHTS TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
We believe that suing a consumer for expressing an opinion is totally unacceptable. We believe that a company arrogant enough to ignore the very real expressed concerns of thousands of consumers is arrogant enough to think it can press ahead with this suit – one which would set a very worrying precedent indeed for the bloggers of the Middle East who already post their views in an environment of widespread government and commercial censorship. We want to send a clear message out – that today’s consumer has the right to express an opinion online – whether that be satisfaction or dissatisfaction – without fear of bullying and litigation from companies.
If you’d like to know more before deciding whether to post something on this, some of the coverage this case has been generating is linked on Mark’s blog here:http://www.248am.com/mark/kuwait/media-coverage-on-benihana-lawsuit/
The full story is summed up here:http://uaecommunity.blogspot.com/2011/02/benihana-kuwait-and-justice.html
Just so we’re clear – this didn’t originate with Mark.