Is social media defamation a crime in Dubai?

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(Lora Johnstone) #1

In today’s social media world, it has become easier to share false information about a person or business. I’m curious what are the legal consequences of defamation on social media in a country like the United Arab Emirates?

(Abdullah Al Khalaf) #2

In Dubai and in other United Arab Emirates, any commentary posted (anonymously or not) may lead to criminal charges for defamation. Some recent cases involved an individual posting to twitter unfounded accusations of corruption and injustice against a senior police officer, and another well publicized case resulted in four individuals being sentenced to imprisonment after exchanging insults on Twitter.

What you need to know about defamation

  1. Defamation in the UAE is a criminal offense.

  2. Defamation includes both oral and published statements, and will include any statement posted to a website which causes harm to the person the statement is about.

  3. Any allegation of defamation must be filed with the police within three months from the date of publication of the “defamatory statement”.

  4. Once the criminal complaint is filed, the Police investigate the complaint and, if they conclude there is evidence of defamation, refer it to the Public Prosecutor for charging.

  5. There is no civil action for defamation; however the complainant can file a civil claim for damages pursuant to the general principles of tort (“wrongful acts causing harm”) and may be entitled to financial compensation, provided the elements can be proved.

  6. It is also a crime, punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment, to insult or abuse any religion, using any means (which is wide enough to include the posting of religious comments to Twitter and Facebook).

  7. The UAE courts will not grant injunctive relief preventing future publications of the “defamatory statement”.

  8. If found guilty, individuals can face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to AED 20,000.

There are two main defamation offences set out in Articles 372 and 373 of UAE Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 (as amended) (“the Penal Code”). Article 372 deals with a publicity which exposes the victim to public hatred or contempt and Article 373 deals with a false accusation that dishonours or discredits the victim in the public eye.

To succeed with a criminal complaint for defamation, the complainant must prove:

  • a false or defamatory statement was made;

  • which was issued to a third party (either in writing or verbally); and

  • that statement caused “harm” to the complainant.