5 September 2023
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) has seen what Ms. Ola Shahba posted on her Facebook account regarding AFTE’s handling of her complaint against a telecommunications company in 2017 and how AFTE’s board of trustees dealt with her complaint in this regard.
AFTE emphasizes that it dealt seriously and transparently with the complaint it received in late November 2022, nearly six years after the incident in question took place. It made a clear apology and suggested possible steps to redress the damage, but did not receive any response from the complainant.
AFTE would like to clarify the course of the complaint and how to deal with it and welcomes communication with the complainant:
- On the morning of 28 November 2022, Ms. Ola Shahba sent a complaint via email to all members of AFTE’s advisory board of trustees at that time (after she sent her complaint to AFTE’s executive director the previous day).
- The complaint included the following points:
- She lost the file of her complaint which was in the custody of one of AFTE’s lawyers, thus violating her personal information
- AFTE’s Legal Aid Unit failed to follow up on the complaint legally and did not inform the client of developments in the matter
- AFTE’s response was weak and late when it was informed of the content of the complaint
- The complaint exclusively demanded an “investigation into how the above happened and how to ensure that it will not happen again to me or any of AFTE’s clients”. It also demanded “sending an official email stating the legal status of the case and the next plan to deal with it”.
- On the day of receiving the complaint, the chairman of the board of trustees sent a reply to Ms. Ola confirming that the board had received her complaint and intended to take action to “clarify the circumstances of what happened, investigate the matter, and inform her of what happened as soon as possible”.
- On 4 February 2023, the board of trustees sent Ms. Ola a letter containing all the details of the investigation. The letter included AFTE’s apology for “the shortcomings that marred AFTE’s work in following up the outcome of the complaint she submitted to the Public Prosecution against a telecommunications company and in informing her of its developments”. It highlighted AFTE’s regret for “the harm that may have been caused to its client as a result of the uncertainty about the fate of her medical report”. The letter concluded that “it was proven that there were negligence and shortcoming in following up the complaint and that it was not possible to attribute this to a specific person who is currently an AFTE staff member”, including the current executive director and the Legal Unit’s director. It further emphasized that AFTE “bears responsibility for this mistake and negligence… as it is responsible for the work of its staff members” even if they left it.
- The letter sent to the complainant included the following:
- Detailed information about the legal procedures taken regarding the complaint filed against the telecommunications company from 15 July 2017 until the Public Prosecution’s decision to shelve the complaint on 18 April 2021.
- A soft copy of the documents submitted to the Public Prosecution, including the National Telecom Regulatory Authority’s (NTRA) reply, the complaints and reports submitted to both NTRA and the Public Prosecution, and a copy of the complainant’s national ID card.
- With regard to the medical report on the psychological impact on Ms. Ola due to the behavior of the telecommunications company, AFTE acknowledged that the lawyer responsible for submitting the complaint in 2017 (who left AFTE several years ago) told the board of trustees that he did not submit the report to the prosecution at that time and preferred to focus on proving the material damage. He said he does not remember accurately whether he obtained a copy of the complaint or just read it. He justified his uncertainty about what happened by saying that the incident took place six years ago.
- Proposed steps to redress the damage and continue the lawsuit, if Ms. Ola agrees. This includes proceeding with the complaint procedures again, resuming the legal and judicial measures, and assigning one of AFTE’s lawyers to undertake these procedures.
- In the event that the client refuses to deal with AFTE again, AFTE offered to transfer the case to any other human rights organization or to a law firm the client chooses. AFTE also offered to cover all required fees within reasonable limits.
- In the recommendations section of the letter sent to Ms. Ola, the board of trustees said that AFTE will develop a hardcopy system, in addition to the softcopy one in place, in order to keep record of lawsuits, investigations and powers of attorney. It also said that AFTE will develop a parallel system in cases of delivery and receipt from a manager to another or from a lawyer to a manager, whatever the type of delivery and receipt is.
Since sending the board’s letter and AFTE’s apology to Ms. Ola on 4 February, AFTE has not received any response to its proposals or any comment on the conclusions and results of the report, until Ms. Ola posted on her Facebook account on 31 August.
AFTE clarified the circumstances of the incident, identified the shortcomings, took responsibility for them, took the necessary measures to address them, apologized to the complainant unequivocally, and offered all possible measures to redress the damage in the manner the complainant prefers.
AFTE and its board of trustees will continue to deal quiet seriously with this complaint and similar ones. It seeks to improve its work system and the performance of its team all the time to discover shortcomings and address them. It takes responsibility for its work not only towards its clients and beneficiaries of its services, but also towards the entire society, in its capacity as a civil institution established for the public benefit.
In conclusion, AFTE is committed to implementing the proposals sent to Ms. Ola, and always welcomes communication with her for this purpose.