There have been several high-profile defamation cases making the headlines in recent years. Most of these cases were related to comments or posts made by individuals on social media. In accordance with the laws in UAE, defamatory and derogatory comments posted on social media are on par with such comments made on any other publication such as newspapers, books or magazines. The penalties, however, are much more severe. The informal and laid-back nature of social media makes users not think of the consequences prior to posting something. Given the instant and worldwide reach of social media posts, the risks and damages caused are far more serious that the traditional means.
What is Defamation in UAE?
The act of targeting and making a false accusation against a person or organization with the intention to damage their reputation is called defamation.
Due to the intangible nature of reputation and the complexity of understanding, defamation is a very difficult law to explain and argue in court.
The types of defamation are mentioned in Article 373 of the UAE Penal Code- “Any person who insults another person, by any means of publicity, which harms his honor or dignity, without attributing any specific incident.” and Article 372- “whoever attributes to another, through a means of publicity, a fact that makes him an object of punishment or contempt. ”
Defamation can be categorized into two types, Slander and Libel.
Slander: Verbal statements that are defamatory in nature are called slander.
Slander is most often said out of hatred and/or anger. These statements are untrue statements that are said in a way that makes them seem true. A good example of slander would be telling false stories about a person to their spouse with an intention to harm their relationship; or telling people that a person has a sexually transmitted disease, etc.
Libel: Libel is also a defamatory statement like slander, the only difference being that libel is a written statement on any print media. Digital statements are also considered libelous acts, such as conversations on WhatsApp, comments or posts on Facebook, comments or posts on Instagram, etc.
For an allegation of defamation, all three elements of the defamation offense have to be fulfilled:
- A false or defamatory statement was made,
- The statement was made in the presence of a third party (witness), either verbally or in writing,
- The statement has caused any extent of harm.
The Court has ruled that defamatory statements are made with the intent to subject someone to punishment, humiliation, or public contempt. It was later added that mere criticism could be considered defamatory if it goes beyond “normal limits” or harms the defamed person’s reputation.
If the perpetrators are found guilty under the Penal Code, they face penalties of up to two years in prison or a fine of up to AED 20,000. However, if the statement is made against a public official, the severity of the punishment may be increased. Similarly, insults to a person’s family honor will be considered aggravating circumstances and will result in severe punishments.
Social Media Defamation in UAE
Social media has recently taken center stage in discussions regarding defamation law. Social media is increasingly being used as a primary medium for derogatory expressions. These responses are typically unplanned and fuelled by rage most of the time. No matter how insignificant it may seem or seem, it may have terrible consequences.
Under Article 20 of the Cyber Crime Law, it is an offense:
- to insult others or put others in situations that may subject them to punishment,
- utilizing computer networks, electronic mediums, or social media to contempt others.
If found guilty under Article 20, the penalty is a prison term and a fine ranging from AED 25,000 to AED 500,000. If you are a foreign national, you may face deportation.
Article 39 of the Cyber Crime Act makes it illegal for any website owner or group administrator to keep, hide, supply, or transmit any illegal content. Even being aware of it and failing to take appropriate action may land group admins in hot water and hold them accountable.
The UAE has one of the most rigorous anti-defamation and cybercrime laws in the world. Several ex-pats have been deported for making insulting Islamophobic comments or postings on social media sites. The UAE has a zero-tolerance attitude and a highly rigorous code of conduct when it comes to defamation through electronic media.
In addition to social media, any defamatory statements made via other electronic media such as websites, forums, WhatsApp, SMS, or emails can be prosecuted under Cybercrime Article 20.
Verbal Abuse Law in UAE
According to UAE law, the use of derogatory language or any form of verbal abuse, no matter someone’s nationality, is a criminal offense. Slur words that are easily used in other countries of the world can get a prison hassle in the UAE.
Article 373 of the Penal Code No. 3 of 1987 states that:
- Punishment by detention for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding AED 10,000 shall be imposed upon anyone who, by any means, disrespects the honor or the modesty of someone else.
- Punishment by detention for a period not exceeding two years and a fine not exceeding AED 20,000 or either of these two shall be imposed if a public official or one who is in charge of public service is abused during, because of, or on the occasion of performing his duty or public service, if the abuse affects the honor or injures the reputation of families, or it is noticed that the abuse is intended to achieve an illegal purpose.
- If the abuse is in a published format such as newspaper or print media, it shall be considered an aggravated case.
Article 374 of the same Penal Code states that:
- Detention for a period not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding AED 5,000 shall apply if the slander or abuse is transmitted by telephone or directly to the victim in the presence of a third party.
- Punishment by a fine not exceeding AED 5,000 shall be imposed if the slander or abuse occurs when the victim is alone. It can be face-to-face or sent through a message of any form.
- It is considered an aggravated case when slander or abuse is performed against a public official or one who is in charge of a public service during, because of, or on the occasion of performing the duty or public service. If it affects the honor or injures the reputation of families or if it is noticed that it achieves an illicit purpose, then also it shall be considered an aggravated case.
The bottom line is, even though all the necessary elements are required according to UAE law for a case to qualify in court, in reality, who files the case first plays a huge role in determining how the case is tried.
Convictions in defamation cases are relatively easier. In family or civil cases, it is always advised to file the case with supporting evidence for the case.