Written By Devika Ramesh – Junior Associate, United Advocates and Edited by Shoeb Sahir – Partner, United Advocates
What is Defamation?
Defamation is the act of making false statements concerning another person that can injure their reputation. Unlike most countries, Defamation falls under the UAE’s criminal law and not civil law. This immediately translates to strict and severe punishments if an individual is found to defame another. There is also an option to claim monetary damages under civil law by filing a suit for damages if the defamation has been established.
Defamation includes both verbal and written statements. These are classified as slander and libel, respectively. Slander refers to defamatory statements conveyed verbally, while libel refers to defamatory statements made in writing, picture or print. This means that you can defame an individual using signboards, cartoons, photographs, artworks and even the display of statues and is not limited to just writing.
In order to be liable for the crime of defamation, all three of the following elements must be proved. If any of the below elements are missing, it will dilute the complaint.
- 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 any extent.
UAE Penal Code
Under the UAE Penal Code, an individual can be punished with imprisonment with a maximum term of two years or be fined up to AED20,000 if the court finds that the defamatory statement causes the victim to be subjected to public hate or contempt.
In a recent court hearing, the judicial authorities held that a statement has the ability to defame a victim’s honor or reputation if the statement is found to exceed the “normal limit”. These statements can result in the victim suffering serious consequences or humiliation in their community which is quite detrimental to recover from.
Quite similarly, an individual who is found to be committing an offence of defamation could be liable for imprisonment with a maximum term of one year or be fined up to AED20,000 if the court finds that the defamatory statement defames the victim’s honor or dignity in the eye of the public in general. These statements may have been criticism which has not exceeded past the “normal limit” but still has consequential effects on the victim’s reputation.
The offence of defamation is more severe if a defamatory statement is made against a public officer while performing the public service or job. A statement which intends to offend any person’s reputation or family also attracts severe punishment. Any statement intending to insult, abuse or show contempt to any religion is considered a separate crime with its own penalty.
Cyber Crime Law
UAE considers defamatory remarks passed either on social media or any other electronic means, including websites and SMS, as a serious offence. The “Cybercrime Law” was introduced to tackle cybercrime, rumours and fake news.
The Cybercrime Law states that any person who, by using a computer network or any information technology, publishes news, photos, comments, data or information with the intention of harming another person is found to be guilty of an offence even if it is true and genuine. The individual could potentially face imprisonment for at least 6 months and/ or a minimum fine of AED 150,000 with a maximum fine of AED 500,000.
Civil Claim for Damages
In addition to the criminal complaint as discussed above, a victim may also seek monetary relief under a civil claim for damages that the victim may have suffered due to the defamation. It is found to be quite complex to argue in court due to the intangible nature of reputation; however, it is possible to calculate the damages in two ways:
- Quantified Damages – These damages can be accurately calculated if the claimant or victim can show actual loss caused to his earnings, loss in business, loss of opportunity etc., as a result of the defamatory statement made. These are capable of accurate calculations and easier to claim.
- Unquantified Damages – These damages are challenging to determine as the defamatory statements could lead the victim to suffer emotional and mental anguish, loss of confidence, credibility, etc., instead of material loss. These are difficult to quantify as well due to the lack of direct measuring parameters and it will be up to the court’s discretion to assess and respectively award these monetary costs.
Conclusively, the UAE adopts a zero-tolerance stance on defamatory statements made against another and ensures strict penalties under the Penal Code and Cyber Crime Law. Individuals must understand the repercussions of making or posting comments that may be construed as dishonoring or insulting another individual, and any remarks against religion and public officers will elicit harsher penalties.
If you require future assistance on the matter, please do not hesitate to contact us at United Advocates.