Archive for March 10, 2011

Inaccurate translation could lead to death sentence for store operator

We have discussed how given the right set of circumstances medical translation can be a matter of life and death. An inaccurately translated prescription, a failed communication between a doctor and patient, a breakdown in an emergency room exchange, each underscores the importance of clear, accurate translation.

A recent case in Egypt points up another example of where a failure in translation can have potentially dire consequences. Mostafa Soliman, a dual U.S./Egyptian citizen, found himself in December arrested and looking at a possible death sentence as a consequence of a poor translation.

The problems began when Soliman, operator of vitamin and health supplement business, imported non-psychoactive hemp seed oil into Egypt. Egyptian customs inaccurately translated “hemp oil” as “hash oil,” a significant problem as Arabic does not have a separate word for “hemp,” classifying any permutation of the cannabis plant simply as cannabis.

After being first held at a Cairo police station Soliman was soon transferred to a maximum-security prison, where he reportedly shared an eight-foot-by-eight-foot cell with up to 30 people, including thieves, rapists, and murderers.

He was finally granted bail only to have the legal process interrupted by the protests in Egypt, during which a mob freed the inmates of the prison. At present, while out of jail, he is attempting, amidst considerable confusion, to clarify the misunderstanding.

Soliman’s story serves as yet another cautionary tale. When it comes to communication, we take translation lightly at our own peril.

Till next time,