News & Events

Defamation and Social Media in the UAE

Submitted By Firm: Clyde & Co

Contact(s): David Salt, Emma Higham, Rebecca Ford, Sara Khoja

Author(s):

Rebecca Kelly and Sharon Procter.

Date Published: 10/1/2012

Article Type: Legal Update

Share This:

The number of defamation cases filed in the UAE has increased substantially over the past 12 months, and one of the correlating factors is the increase in use of social media tools. The use of social media should not be treated differently to publication in newspapers, books or magazines when it comes to defamation. Arguably, the risk of damage is higher when social media is used, given the instantaneous and largely uncontrollable dissemination of opinions posted to social media sites. This article examines defamation in the UAE, and outlines steps companies and individuals should follow to avoid facing criminal conviction for seemingly following the worldwide trend of contributing to social media sites.

Social media is a phenomenon sweeping the globe.  Gone are the days where a letter to the newspaper's editor was the only way in which someone could publicly comment about current affairs - people now can instantaneously voice their opinions on twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and other public internet social media web sites.  As the number of users of social media grows, we have seen an increase in the multitude of legal issues that arise from the public nature of the comments, including breach of privacy claims, allegations of defamation, cyber liability issues, termination of employees for misconduct, data breaches and regulatory compliance issues.

In the UAE, any commentary posted (anonymously or not) may lead to criminal charges for defamation.  We have seen first hand the number of defamation cases in the UAE increasing substantially within the region.   Some recent cases involved an individual posting to twitter unfounded accusations of corruption and injustice against a senior police officer, and another well publicised case resulted in four individuals being sentenced to imprisonment after exchanging insults on Twitter.

What you need to know about defamation

  1. Defamation in the UAE is a criminal offence.
  2. Defamation includes both oral and published statements, and will include any statement posted to a website which causes harm to the person the statement is about. 
  3. Any allegation of defamation must be filed with the police within three months from the date of publication of the "defamatory statement". 
  4. Once the criminal complaint is filed, the Police investigate the complaint and, if they conclude there is evidence of defamation, refer it to the Public Prosecutor for charging.
  5. There is no civil action for defamation; however the complainant can file a civil claim for damages pursuant to the general principles of tort ("wrongful acts causing harm") and may be entitled to financial compensation, provided the elements can be proved.
  6. It is also a crime, punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment, to insult or abuse any  religion, using any means (which is wide enough to include the posting of religious  comments to twitter and facebook).    
  7. The UAE courts will not grant injunctive relief preventing future publications of the "defamatory statement".
  8. If found guilty, individuals can face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to AED 20,000.

Defamation explained

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 a 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 verbally); and
  3. that statement caused "harm" to the complainant.

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

The highest court of appeal in Dubai, the Court of Cassation, has held that a defamatory statement is likely to make the defamed person subject to "punishment" or "humiliation" amongst their community.  In a more recent decision, the Court held that mere criticism may be regarded as defamatory if it exceeds the "normal limits" or affects the honour of a defamed individual. 

If the statement is made via "printed matter" (which would include social media) or against a public officer this will be considered an aggravating circumstance, which may increase the severity of the punishment.  Statements which insult a person's honour or family will also be subject to penalties at the more severe end of the scale.

Risk for employers

Employers need to ensure that they explain the risks to their employees when they engage in social media. In the event an employee has been charged with a criminal complaint, the employer will no doubt be involved in the process, as they sponsor the individual to live and work in the UAE. 

Whilst an investigation is on-going the police may require access to office computers.  Of course, where the opinions of the employee are given on behalf (or seen to represent) those of the Employer then the criminal complaint could be made against the employee's manager as well as the employee posting the defamatory remarks.

How to handle social media in the UAE

Defamation in the UAE is prosecuted by reference to the Penal Code.  Rightly or wrongly, the legislation is clear, and the penalties can be severe.  Individuals should ensure they understand the perils associated with posting any comments which may be construed as defamatory.  Companies should amend and update any internet usage policies to specifically refer to social media, and provide training and guidance to their employees on what is appropriate and responsible commentary for the UAE. 

Find an Employment Lawyer

In all 50 U.S. states, every Canadian province, and over 135 countries. View or print a complete ELA member list by clicking here.

Find an Immigration Lawyer

Facilitate employee transfers around the globe. View or print a complete ELA member list by clicking here.

Global Business Immigration Law Handbook

Your free resource for obtaining key business immigration law information worldwide.

Client Successes

Altra Industrial Motion Inc.

Altra Industrial Motion Inc. has multiple locations in the U.S., as well as Central America, Europe, and Asia. The Employment Law Alliance has proved to be a great asset in assisting us in dealing with employment issues and matters in such diverse venues as Mexico, Australia, and Spain. We have obtained excellent results using the ELA network for matters ranging from a multi-state review of employment policies to assisting with individual employment issues in a variety of foreign jurisdictions.

In one instance, we were faced with an employment dispute with a former associate in Mexico that had the potential for substantial economic exposure. The matter had been pending for over a year, and we were not confident in the employment advice we had been receiving. I obtained a referral to the ELA counsel in Mexico, who was able to obtain a favorable resolution of the dispute in only a few days. Based on our experiences with the ELA, we would not hesitate to use its many resources for future employment law needs.

American University in Bulgaria

In my career I have been a practicing attorney, counsel to the Governor of Maine, and CEO of a major public utility. I have worked with many lawyers in many settings. When the American University in Bulgaria needed help with employment litigation in federal court in Syracuse, New York, we turned to Pierce Atwood, the ELA member we knew and trusted in Maine, for a referral. We were extremely pleased with the responsiveness and high quality of service we received from Bond Schoeneck & King, the ELA's firm in upstate New York. I would not hesitate to recommend the ELA to any employer.

David T. Flanagan
Member of Board of Trustees 

Arcata Associates

I really enjoyed the Conducting an Effective Internal Investigation in the United States webinar.  We are in the midst of a rather delicate employee relations issue in California right now and the discussion helped me tremendously.  It also reinforced things that you tend to forget if you don't do these investigations frequently.  So, many, many thanks to the Employment Law Alliance for putting that webinar together.  It was extremely beneficial.

Lynn Clayton
Vice President, Human Resources

Barrett Business Services, Inc.

I recently participated in the ELA-sponsored webinar on the Employee Free Choice Act.  I was most impressed with that presentation.  It was extremely helpful and very worthwhile.  I have also been utilizing the ELA's online Global Employer Handbook.  This compliance tool is absolutely terrific. 

I am familiar with several other products that purport to provide up-to- date employment law information and I believe that this resource is superior to other similar compliance manuals.  I am delighted that the ELA provides this free to its members' clients.

Boyd Coffee Company

Employment Law Alliance (ELA) has provided Boyd Coffee Company with a highly valued connection to resources, important information and learning. With complex operations and employees working in approximately 20 states, we are continually striving to keep abreast of specific state laws, many of which vary from state to state. We have participated in the ELA web seminars and have found the content very useful. We appreciate the ease, cost effectiveness and quality of the content and presenters offered by these web seminars.  The Global Employer Handbook has provided our company with a very helpful overview of legal issues in the various states in which we operate, and the network of attorneys has helped us manage issues that have arisen in states other than where our Roastery and corporate headquarters are located in Portland, Oregon.

Capgemini Outsourcing Services GmbH

As an international operating outsourcing and consulting supplier Capgemini has used firms of the Employment Law Alliance in Central Europe. We were always highly satisfied with the quality of employment law advice and the responsiveness. I can really recommend the ELA lawyers.

Hirschfeld Kraemer

As an employment lawyer based in San Francisco, I work closely with high tech clients with operations around the globe. Last year, one of my clients needed to implement a workforce reduction in a dozen countries simultaneously. And they gave me 48 hours to accomplish this. I don't know how I could have pulled this off without the resources of the ELA. I don't know of any single law firm that could have made this happen. My client received all of the help they needed in a timely fashion and on a cost effective basis.

Stephen J. Hirschfeld
Partner 

Hollywood Entertainment Corporation

As the Vice President for Litigation & Associate General Counsel for my company, I need to ensure that we have a team of top-notch employment lawyers in place in every jurisdiction where we do business. And I want to be confident that those lawyers know our business so they don't have to reinvent the wheel when a new legal matter arises. With more than 3400 stores and 35,000 employees operating in all 50 U.S. states and across Canada, we rely on the ELA to partner with us to help accomplish our objectives. I have been delighted with the consistent high quality of the work performed by ELA lawyers. I encourage other in-house counsel to use their services, as well.

Ingram Micro

Ingram Micro is the world's largest technology distributor, providing sales, marketing, and logistics services for the IT industry around the globe. With over 13,000 employees working throughout the U.S. and in 35 international countries, we need employment lawyers who we can count on to ensure global legal compliance. Our experience with many multi-state and multi-national law firms is that their employment law services are not always a high priority for them, and many do not have experts in many of their offices. The ELA has assembled an excellent team of highly skilled employment lawyers, wherever and whenever I need them, and they have proven to be an invaluable resource to our company.

Konami Gaming

Our company, Konami Gaming, Inc., is growing rapidly in a very diverse and highly regulated industry. We are aggressively entering new markets outside the domestic U.S., including Canada and South America. I have had the recent opportunity to utilize the services provided by the ELA. The legal advice was both responsive and professional. Most of all, the entire process was seamless since our Nevada attorney coordinated the services and legal advice requested. I look forward to working with the ELA in the future, as it serves as a great resource to the legal community.

Jennifer Martinez
Vice President, Human Resources

Nikkiso Cryo, Inc.

Until recently, I was unaware of the ELA's existence. We have subsidiaries and affiliates throughout the United States, as well as in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. When a recent legal issue arose in Texas, our long-time Nevada counsel, who is a member of the ELA, suggested that this matter be handled by his ELA colleague in Dallas. We are very pleased with the quality and timeliness of services provided by that firm, and we are excited to now have the ELA as an important asset to help us address employment law issues worldwide.

Palm, Inc.

The ELA network has been immensely important to our company in helping us address an array of human resources challenges around the world. I strongly encourage H.R. executives who have employees located in many different jurisdictions to utilize the ELA's unparalleled expertise and geographic coverage.

Stacy Murphy
Former Senior Director of Human Resources

Rich Products

As the General Counsel for a company with 6,500 employees operating across the U.S. and in eight countries, it is critical that I have top quality lawyers on the ground where we do business. The ELA is an indispensable resource. It has taken the guesswork out of finding the best employment counsel wherever we have a problem.

Jill K. Bond
Senior Vice President/General Counsel, Shared Services and Benefits

Ricoh Americas Corporation

We have direct sales and service offices all over the U.S., but have not necessarily had the need in the past for assistance with legal work in every state where we have a business presence. From time to time, we suddenly find ourselves facing a legal issue in a state where we have no outside counsel relationship. It has been a real benefit to know that the ELA has assembled such an impressive team of experts throughout the U.S. and overseas.

A few years ago, we faced a very tough discrimination lawsuit in Mississippi. We had never had to retain a lawyer there before. I was absolutely delighted with the Mississippi ELA firm. We received an excellent result. They will no doubt handle all of our employment law matters in Mississippi in the future. I have also obtained the assistance of several other ELA firms around the U.S. and have received the same outstanding service. The ELA is a tremendous resource for our company.

Roberts-Gordon LLC

Our affiliated companies have used the Employment Law Alliance in connection with numerous acquisitions, and have always been extremely pleased with our ability to obtain the highest quality legal advice on due diligence issues from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We have found the Employment Law Alliance firms to be not only first rate with respect to their legal advice but also responsive and timely in assisting us with federal and state law issues critical to our due diligence efforts. We consider the Employment Law Alliance to be an important part of our team.

Rockwell Collins, Inc.

We have partnered with many ELA firms on the development and execution of case management strategies with very positive results. We have been very pleased with the legal advice and counsel provided by the law firms we have utilized who are affiliated with the Employment Law Alliance. The ELA firms we have worked with are customer focused, responsive, and thorough in their approach to handling labor and employment law matters.

Elizabeth Daly
Assistant General Counsel

Sanmina-SCI

Sanmina-SCI has facilities strategically located in key regions throughout the world. Our customers expect that we will provide them with the highest quality and most sophisticated services in the marketplace. We have that same expectation for the lawyers with whom we do business. With operations in 17 countries, we need to be certain that we have a team of lawyers working together to address our employment law needs worldwide. The ELA has delivered exactly what it promised-- seamless and consistent high quality services delivered in each locale around the globe. It has quickly become a key asset for our human resources department.

Starwood

We own, manage, and franchise hotels throughout the U.S. and in more than 90 countries. With more than 145,000 employees worldwide, ensuring that we comply with the complex web of local labor and employment laws in every one of these jurisdictions is a daunting task. The Employment Law Alliance has served as an important resource for us and we have benefited greatly from its expertise and long reach. When a legal dispute or issue has arisen in some far-flung place, Employment Law Alliance lawyers have always provided responsive, practical, and cost-effective assistance.

Wilmington Trust Corporation

Wilmington Trust has used the ELA to locate firms in California, Washington State, Georgia, and Europe. Our experience with the ELA lawyers with whom we have worked has always been one of complete satisfaction and prompt, practical advice.

Michael A. DiGregorio
General Counsel  

Loading...