DUBAI: A renowned celebrity chef in Dubai could be prosecuted after making comments on Twitter about Islam.
Atul Kochhar, who runs the popular Rang Mahal restaurant in the Dubai Marriott Marquis hotel, is also facing a boycott of his restaurants and calls for him to be sacked.
The row erupted after he posted a now-deleted message on Twitter on Sunday night in response to a post by Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, in which she said she was sorry that some people had been offended by the portrayal of Hindu nationalists as terrorists on her US TV show, “Quantico”.
He wrote: “It’s sad to see that you have not respected the sentiments of Hindus who have been terrorized by Islam over 2000 years. Shame on you.”
Twitter users quickly responded, criticizing Kochhar for his remarks and suggesting that he should not be working in a Muslim country if he feels badly treated by Muslims and Islam.
Several people tagged Dubai police in their responses.
“Dear Dubai Police, this guy earns in Dubai while (he) defames Islam by saying it is a religious of terrorism,” wrote @RoflMessi.
Social media laws are very strict in the UAE. Online comments found to be spreading sectarian hate or racism, especially in connection with Islam and Muslims, are a criminal offense and the chef can be prosecuted.
“The UAE’s anti-discriminatory law criminalizes all forms of discrimination on all grounds of religion, belief, sect, faith, creed, race, color, or ethnic origin,” said lawyer Yamini Rajesh, the managing director of Yamini Rajesh Legal Consultancy. She added that anyone convicted of breaking the law could face imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of between 500,000 dirhams and 1 million dirhams.
Perhaps realizing the severity of the situation, Kochhar posted an apology. He wrote: “There is no justification for my tweet, a major error made in the heat of moment on Sunday. I fully recognize my inaccuracies that Islam was founded around 1,400 years ago and I sincerely apologize. I am not Islamophobic, I deeply regret my comments that have offended many.”
There is no justification for my tweet, a major error made in the heat of the moment on Sunday. I fully recognise my inaccuracies that Islam was founded around 1,400 years ago and I sincerely apologise. I am not Islamophobic, I deeply regret my comments that have offended many.— Atul Kochhar (@atulkochhar) June 11, 2018
Bosses at the JW Marriott Marquis also apologized on Twitter, writing: “We are aware of the comments made by Chef Atul Kochhar. We would like to stress that we do not share the same views stated in the remark, nor is it a representation of the culture of diversity and inclusion that we pride ourselves on at the hotel.”
UAE law can also hold employers responsible for ensuring their employees follow the rules, said Rajesh, adding that companies “should ensure that appropriate internal policies and procedures are established to raise employees’ awareness and understanding of the type of conduct which could now constitute a criminal offense under the law.”
He continued: “Article 17 of the law states that a representative, manager or agent of a company will be punished with the same penalties that would apply if she or he has committed the offense themselves if the crime…is committed by any personnel of the company in its name and on its behalf, and provided that the representative, manager or agent is aware of the same.”
Despite the apologies, some people called on the hotel to sack the chef. One Twitter user said he would boycott the hotel while Kochhar remains there. Another wrote: “No more Rang Mahal Dubai for me. And you need history lessons on Islam.”
Kochhar, who was born in India, is a renowned international celebrity chef, TV star and author of three best-selling cookery books. Rang Mahal is his first fine-dining Indian-cuisine restaurant in Dubai.