Disseminating defamatory comments on social media is no different from publishing them in print media in the UAE. The risk of damage from social media is arguably greater than that from traditional “print media”. The immediate and uncontrollable spreading of ideas posted to social media sites can go viral to an audience far larger than the intended audience. This article examines the Law of Defamation in the United Arab Emirates and provides advice on how persons can avoid facing criminal charges.
This area of law is highly complicated, and it necessitates the assistance of an experienced defamation lawyer UAE. Defamation is a criminal offense in the UAE, thus, it is critical that you seek the advice of a defamation lawyer who has extensive experience in this specialized field of law.
What are Defamation Laws in UAE?
Articles 372 and 373 of UAE Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 (as amended) define two main defamation offenses (the “Penal Code”). Article 372 addresses publicity that exposes the victim to public hatred or contempt, whereas Article 373 addresses a false charge that defames or discredits the victim in the public eye.
In a defamation legal case, the onus of proving guilt falls upon the Plaintiff/complainant. A plaintiff must show the following in order to win a slander lawsuit:
- The defendant’s words and conduct are not those of a reasonable and prudent person, he or she is guilty of making a false or defamatory statement.
- A third party may be offered or tendered the contract (either in writing or orally).
- The statement is responsible for any harm it causes the complainant.
As per the implementation of UAE laws, If the defamation includes the publication of defamatory words in a newspaper or other form of public media, the situation will be regarded wilfully produced, and the offender will be sentenced to two years in jail and a fine (Article 372, UAE Penal Code). If, on the other hand, slander is created and distributed over the phone or in front of the victim and is witnessed by a third party. Detention for a period of not more than six months or a fine of not more than AED 5,000 (UAE Dirham 5,000) will be imposed on the offender (Article 374, UAE Penal Code). If a defamatory comment is made public, it must be filed within three months of its publication.
Further, when a case is referred to the Public Prosecutor, a criminal complaint is filed, and police determine that there is evidence of defamation. In the UAE, insulting any religion through any means, including social media, is a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Slander and Libel Offences in UAE
Slander is defined as false statements, orally made with malice or rage. Slander can be defined as:
- claiming a person’s sexual orientation,
- when it is false or incorrect, in order to harm his or her reputation,
- telling co-workers a made-up, or
- an unproven story about a person stealing etc.
Truth, honest comment, absolute privilege, and consent are a few important defamation defenses. The truth is a defense in a libel suit in which the defendant must show that the words complained of are true in content and that the defamation is void because defamation is only based on false statements. A defense to a defamation claim is an honest remark. It is referred to as “one of the essential rights of free speech and expression.” The argument’s basic idea is that a person should be able to express his or her opinions on matters of public concern.
Libel, on the other hand, is the publication of defamatory claims in a permanent form. A claimant must prove three criteria to sue the other party for defamation. The subject of the complaint must be defamatory, must have been referred to the claimant, and must have been published to a third party. Libel is commonly assumed to happen in writing or print. A defamatory comment in a book, magazine, newspaper, letter, or poster, for example, can easily be classified as libel.
Laws Governing Defamation Over Social Media
Defamatory words published on social media or through other electronic methods (such as WhatsApp, websites, SMS, and E-mail) may be a violation of Federal Law No. 5 of 2012, the “Cyber Crime Law,” which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison or monetary punishment.
Using a computer network or information technology means to insult others or make an allegation against them that may subject them to penalty or scorn by others is a violation of Article 20 of the Cyber Crime Law. Article 39 of the Cyber Crime Act also prohibits any website or information network owner or operator from storing or disseminating illegal content if they are aware of it. As a result, web and group owners may be held liable.
A violation of Article 20 can result in a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and a fine ranging from AED 25,000/- to AED 500,000/- as well as deportation if the criminal is not a citizen. If the statement is made in front of a public authority, it will be regarded as an aggravating circumstance, and the penalty may be increased. It’s comparable to defamation litigation under the Penal Code in that if the statement is directed at a public official, it will be considered an aggravating factor that could increase the sentence.
To summarize, defamation is a complex matter since, in today’s environment, where freedom of speech is valued and embraced, people nevertheless have harsh ideas about others that they broadcast on various platforms. In today’s world, live broadcasting is available to everyone who has access to social media, not just news organizations so it’s a delicate area of law to deal.