Criminal Liability in UAE: for Derogatory Messages on Social Networks
The Electronic Applications prevalent in the social media networks enable the users to send messages through the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, etc. These widely used messaging apps, reduce communication times and helping people keep in touch in an unprecedented revolution in technology. While these Apps have a simplistic design and convenience, it can also be misused to harass individuals. Abusive messages are violative of such Application’s terms of service, and errant users can be reported on the Application itself i.e. WhatsApp (leading to a ban of the user sending abusive messages). However, such a remedy is merely a private one, and often, the gravity of insults may require a stronger penalty to be cast on the aggravator, a penalty which only the law can impose. Insulting someone via WhatsApp or any social communication technology means is an offense in the United Arab Emirates.
Legal Provisions concerning the Offense
Insulting an individual is a criminal offense in the United Arab Emirates, and can render an individual liable to fines and imprisonment. Under Article 374 of the Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 (“the UAE Penal Code”), individuals are liable to detention upto six months or to a fine upto Dh 5,000 in the event that they insult another individual through a telephone or whilst facing the victim without the presence of other third party. The penalty for insults without the presence of other persons is lesser as the loss to reputation is mitigated by the absence of other individuals, and as such the crime committed is only the mental harassment of the insulted individual.
However, if an individual makes use of an app such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger in order to insult another by sending Messages to that effect (Derogatory Messages), they would attract liability under Federal Decree Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes (“the UAE Cyber Law”), which treats the insulting or offending of any individual through information technology or electronic means as an aggravated offense (in comparison to the above discussed penalties under Article 374 of Federal Law No. 3 of 1987). Under Article 21 of the Federal Law No. 5 of 2012, the penalty for causing offense to another, or insulting them can result in either imprisonment of at least 1 year (as opposed to the maximum period of detention upto 6 months under the UAE Penal Code) or a fine ranging from Dh250,000 to Dh500,000. Also, according to Article 16 of the UAE Cyber Law, an individual shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of two years at most and a fine not less than Dh250,000 to DH500,000, who uses a computer network or information technology means to extort or threaten another person to force him to engage in or prevent him from engaging in certain act.
Thus, the use of electronic means to commit an offence of the nature mentioned above can lead to an increased liability for the perpetrator. Given the fact that WhatsApp messages can be produced in Court as evidence, it shall be increasingly difficult for the perpetrator to get away from such accusation. However, it is an important caveat that as the latest version of WhatsApp allows senders to delete or unsend their messages, proof is collected as soon as possible (in the form of screenshots) and the complaint is forwarded to the authorities before the perpetrator destroys any evidence.
How to initiate criminal proceedings?
In order to initiate proceedings against the perpetrator, the individual who has been insulted by means of Derogatory Messages should bring a written or verbal complaint in accordance with the UAE Criminal Procedures Law (Federal Law No. 35 of 1992 as amended). In accordance with Article 142 of the same law, the legal proceedings should be commenced before the public prosecutor where the crime took place. While the perpetrator’s case may be that the proceedings should commence at the location where the messages were sent from, decisions from the UAE Supreme Court suggest that the appropriate place for commencing legal proceedings would be the place where the offending material is read, which in the current example, would be the place where the individual who has been insulted reads the messages.
Upon receipt of the complaint, the public prosecutor shall investigate the complaint and register a criminal case before the competent criminal court, if an offense is deemed to have been committed.
The criminal prosecution of the perpetrator is without prejudice to the right of the complainant to claim appropriate compensation for the harm caused to the complaint as a result of the perpetrator’s offending act of sending Derogatory Messages for which he is found guilty and punished by a final judgment issued by the competent courts.
All individuals should protect themselves and be careful not to commit such acts which could be construed as crimes, since they could always occur through regular texting conversations while being angry or out of control. Nevertheless, any individual can fall under the Criminal Liability in UAE for sending Derogatory Messages to another person.