Defamation refers to the act of spreading false statements which can damage someone’s reputation. Unlike in many countries, defamation is considered a criminal offense rather than a civil claim in the UAE. This means that penalties for defamation can be strict and severe if one person is found guilty of defaming another. However, it is also possible to seek monetary compensation through a civil lawsuit if the defamation is proven.
Defamation can take the form of both spoken and written statements, which are categorized as slander and libel, respectively. Slander involves defamatory statements conveyed verbally, while libel pertains to defamatory statements made in writing, images, or print. Defamation can thus occur through various means, such as signboards, cartoons, photographs, artworks, or even the display of statues.
To be held responsible for the crime of defamation, all three of the following elements must be proven:
A false or defamatory statement was made. The statement was issued to a third party (witness), either verbally or in writing. The statement has caused harm to some extent.
UAE Legal Framework
According to the UAE Penal Code, an individual can face imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to AED 20,000 if the court determines that the defamatory statement has subjected the victim to public hatred or contempt.
In recent court proceedings, it has been established that a statement can be considered defamatory if it goes beyond the "normal limit" and leads to serious consequences or humiliation for the victim within their community, making it difficult for them to recover their reputation.
Similarly, a person found guilty of defamation may face imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to AED 20,000 if the court determines that the defamatory statement tarnishes the victim's honor or dignity in the eyes of the general public. Such statements may involve criticism that, while not exceeding the "normal limit," still has a detrimental impact on the victim's reputation.
The consequences for defamation are more severe if the defamatory statement is made against a public officer while performing their public service or job. Statements intended to harm a person's reputation or family also warrant serious punishment. Furthermore, any statement that intends to insult, abuse, or show contempt for any religion is considered a separate crime with its own penalties.
Cyber Crime Law
The UAE takes defamatory remarks made on social media, websites, or other electronic means, such as SMS, very seriously. To address cybercrime, rumors, and fake news, the "Cyber Crime Law" was enacted.
This law states that any individual who publishes news, photos, comments, data, or information intending to harm another person through a computer network or any information technology is guilty of an offense, even if the content is true and genuine. The offender may potentially face imprisonment for at least six months and/or a minimum fine of AED 150,000, with a maximum fine of AED 500,000.
Civil Claims for Damages
In addition to the criminal charges mentioned above, a victim can also seek monetary compensation through a civil lawsuit for damages incurred due to defamation. Although it can be challenging to argue in court due to the intangible nature of reputation, damages can be calculated in two ways:
- Quantified Damages – these damages can be accurately calculated if the claimant or victim demonstrates actual loss, such as a decrease in earnings, business losses, or loss of opportunities, resulting from the defamatory statement. These damages are easier to claim as they can be accurately calculated.
- Unquantified Damages – these damages are more challenging to determine, as the defamatory statements may cause the victim to experience emotional and mental distress, loss of confidence, credibility, etc., rather than material loss. Due to the lack of direct measuring parameters, it is up to the court's discretion to assess and award these monetary costs.
In conclusion, the UAE has a zero-tolerance policy for defamatory statements made against others and enforces strict penalties under the Penal Code and Cyber Crime Law. Individuals must be aware of the consequences of making or posting comments that could be construed as dishonoring or insulting another person. Remarks against religion and public officers will result in harsher penalties.
It is essential for residents and visitors in the UAE to familiarize themselves with the country's defamation laws to avoid potential legal consequences. To safeguard oneself from accusations of defamation, individuals should refrain from making or sharing statements that could potentially harm another person's reputation, either through spoken or written means. This includes not just direct verbal and written statements, but also the sharing of images, cartoons, and other visual representations that could be defamatory.
In cases where a person feels that they have been unfairly defamed, it is crucial to gather evidence, such as screenshots or recordings, and consult with a legal expert to determine the best course of action. Legal professionals can help assess the strength of a defamation case and advise on whether to pursue criminal charges or a civil lawsuit for damages.
Companies and organizations operating in the UAE should also take measures to ensure their employees are aware of the country's defamation laws and the potential consequences of violating them. This can be done through training sessions, guidelines, and company policies that promote respectful communication and discourage harmful statements.
Ultimately, the UAE's strict stance on defamation serves to protect individuals from harm to their reputation, honor, and dignity. By understanding the legal framework surrounding defamation and the consequences of engaging in such behavior, individuals can better navigate their interactions and maintain a respectful and harmonious society.