Is Defamation a crime in UAE? Do you need lawyers?

In the United Arab Emirates, insult and slander are regarded as criminal offences, in contrast to nations like the United Kingdom and the United States of America, where defamation is handled through civil lawsuits. Most people in the area are foreigners, and defamation claims have dramatically increased.

Federal Law 1987 No. 3 lists several serious acts under insult and slander. Regulations regarding publicizing that subjects a victim to scorn and hostility from the general public are found in Article 372. Article 373 sets the rules for situations where a perpetrator makes false charges that cause the victim to lose public respect or credibility.

What is Defamation?

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 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:

  1. a false or defamatory statement was made;
  2. which was issued to a third party (either in writing or orally); and
  3. that statement caused harm to the complainant.

The absence of any of these elements will undermine the merits of a complaint.

The Court of Cassation, Dubai’s highest Court, has ruled that a defamatory comment will likely subject the person being defamed to “punishment” or “humiliation” within their community. In a more recent ruling, the Court stated that if criticism goes beyond “normal limitations” or impairs the reputation of the person being criticized, it may be defamatory.

A person who violates the Penal Code may be sentenced to up to two years in prison or a fine of up to AED 20,000. If the statement is made in defamation of a public official, this will be viewed as an aggravating factor and could result in harsher punishment.

Punishments on the harsher end of the spectrum will also apply to statements that are offensive to someone’s honor or family. To insult, abuse, or otherwise demonstrate disrespect for a religion by any method is also a separate offence with its own punishment.

In accordance with UAE law, there is no civil action for defamation; nevertheless, the complainant may be eligible for compensation if they successfully prove the elements of a tort claim for damages, or “wrongful conduct causing harm.”

Defamation as a Civil Action

Damages are sums that the courts’ order to be paid as restitution for injustice or harm. According to Article 292 of the UAE Civil Transaction Laws, damages will often be calculated to cover the prejudice suffered and the profit lost if the injury is a natural result of the harmful act. In other words, the compensation payment will be sufficient to make good on the harm done to the other party.

There are two different kinds of damages: quantifiable damages and unquantified damages. On a reliable basis, quantified damages can be estimated. Unquantified damages are those for which compensation cannot be precisely calculated. In all situations, the amount of compensation due will typically be sufficient to pay for the harm done and any lost revenue.

One must file a claim for damages within three years of the occurrence of the alleged damages. However, a claim for damages may still be heard if it stems from a criminal offence and the criminal case hearing is still ongoing three years after the incident.

Defamation by electronic means

People frequently express their thoughts on social media, and various sociopolitical causes have gained popularity due to the awareness raised on social networking sites. However, users of these platforms should exercise some caution when utilizing social media, as a casual remark that offends or causes harm to the recipient may result in defamation proceedings.
The UAE’s laws, courts, and regulators treat the dissemination of false information online seriously. In light of this, this page provides a brief overview of the defamation penalties stipulated by Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 (the “UAE Penal Code”) and Federal Decree No. 5 of 2012 (the “UAE Cyber Crime Law”).

According to the UAE Penal Code, publishing a defamatory comment is punishable by jail time and hefty fines (up to AED 20,000). (not exceeding two years). The UAE Penal Code’s Articles 371 to 373 outline the penalties and legal actions one should take against anyone who spreads false, misleading, and defamatory news. Higher penalties apply to comments made against public officials, a person’s family, and statements that insult, abuse, or show contempt for any religion.

According to UAE Cyber Crime Law, violators who violate the privacy of another person by publishing news, electronic photos or photographs, scenes, comments, statements or information, even if it is true and accurate, will be punished with a minimum 6-month prison sentence and a fine of not less than AED 150,000 and not more than AED 500,000, or both of these penalties.

Why do you need a Lawyer?

Lawyers suggest filing defamation proceedings to support claims in the case of family or civil cases because convictions are generally more straightforward in these circumstances. Although accurate numbers are not readily available, in our experience, we have seen that verbal abuse played a part in the majority of family court cases in Dubai.

We have experience with criminal and civil defamation issues and access to a wide range of defamation cases. Most of the time, it depends on how seriously judges consider defamation claims given the circumstances.