Here's what you need to know about the UAE's laws on defamation, and how to file a criminal case against someone for slander and libel
24 November 2022| Last updated on 20 February 2023
It's important for expat residents to understand the basis of defamation law in the UAE.
In the heat of the moment, it can be easy for people to say some nasty or untrue things. However, in the UAE, insulting someone, accusing another of falsehoods, or spreading untrue stories about a person, an organisation, or business can come with some serious legal consequences.
In addition with how informal social media is, it can be easy for people to make any posts, comments, or images online that may be construed as defamatory or insulting, thus violating the country's Cybercrimes Law.
In this guide, we cover the critical things you should know about the UAE's defamation laws, what counts as defamation, what are the consequences of defaming someone or an organisation in the UAE, and how a victim of defamation can file a civil claim to relevant authorities.
What is defamation in the UAE?
Defamation is the act of making untrue statements, whether verbally or in media/publication about another person, business, or organisation, and these false comments may damage the reputation of the accused. Defamation is considered a criminal act in the UAE and it is punishable according to Federal Decree Law 31 of 2021 (UAE Penal Code).
While valid criticism and feedback is allowed, such feedback may be legally regarded as defamatory if it exceeds "normal limits" or affects the defamed victim's reputation, as per The Court of Cassation (highest court).
There are two types of defamation: slander and libel.
What is 'slander'?
Verbally expressed defamatory comments or words is considered as slander. For example, spreading unproven stories about someone's spouse that can harm his or her relationship, falsely accusing a company for illegal business practices with the intention to harm its reputation, claiming without truth that a teacher harassed a student, etc.
What is 'libel'?
Libel is when a defamatory statement is made in print, written, broadcasted, or it's published online, such as photographs, articles, social media posts, posters, etc.
What are the consequences for defamation in the UAE?
The act of insulting and making untrue statements of another person, business, or organisation in the UAE without any justifiable reason, thus causing injury to that person's honour or dignity, will be punishable by law as per Article 373 of the Penal Code.
A person or organisation who committed libel will be punished with imprisonment, or pay a fine not exceeding AED 20,000. In addition, if the defamation was made against a civil officer or they have insulted a person's family honour, the punishment may be more severe.
Depending on the case, the defamed victim may also be entitled to monetary compensation.
What if the defamatory comments were posted online?
As per UAE law, any defamatory statements and comments made on social media (WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, etc.) and other digital means (SMS, email, websites, etc.) may also fall under the country's Cybercrimes Law.
According to Article 43 Of Federal Decree-Law No. 34 of 2021 on combatting cybercrimes, it is a criminal offence to insult someone or accuse them of untrue claims that may cause harm to their reputation or result in contempt by others. It is punishable with a prison sentence and/or fine ranging between AED 250,000 - AED 500,000.
In fact, private chats and even group chats are not necessarily excluded from the law as the UAE's new cybercrime law apply to all types of digital communications.
It is also illegal to spread rumours or fake news through digital means, if the untrue statements provokes public contempt against authorities, or if it's posted during a sensitive time (such as during an emergency, public disaster, epidemic, etc.)
So if you're itching to start a heated argument on social media, post an angry TikTok video about someone, or create a "funny" meme to post on your account, we recommend re-thinking it.
Let us do our best to be civil in person and online.
How to file a legal claim for defamation in the UAE?
If you have strong reason to believe that a social media post, publication, letter, etc. are defamatory to you, you can file a complaint in the UAE starting with the police before escalating it to court.
How long is the validity of my complaint?
The accused has the right to complain to a police station in the UAE within three months after the defamed victim became aware of the crime.
How to file a criminal complaint for defamation in Dubai?
Here's how you can file a complaint for defamation, libel, and slander in the UAE:
- You can lodge a complaint through the Dubai Police online portal, the Dubai Police mobile app, by visiting your nearest police station in the emirate, or by calling 999.
- Authorities will investigate your case, and if your complaint proves to be true, the Dubai police may open a case against the person defaming you.
- Your defamation case will then be referred to the public prosecutor for charges as under the applicable UAE laws.
- The prosecutor will question the person accused within the first 48 hours of the complaint being filed.
- If the case is in favour of the defamed victim, monetary compensation will be granted.