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UAE legal view: Up to Dh20,000 fine, jail for defamation

Dubai - Know the law: What's considered defamation in the UAE?

Illustrative image: Alamy.com/ae
Illustrative image: Alamy.com/ae

By Ashish Mehta

Published: Sun 14 Feb 2021, 2:25 PM

Question: I lost my tooth and tooth bone due to a medical error of a dentist in a Dubai clinic. The clinic staff acknowledged the error (verbally) but refused to do anything about it. I registered a case with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and have got a report in my favour, stating it was a medical malpractice that caused me immense physical and mental trauma. I want to report this case in the Press for the larger good of people, so that no one suffers like me. But the hospital says it will sue me if I do so. Can I publish this case in the media with the DHA report or will I get sued?

Answer: Pursuant to your query, it may be noted that on the basis of the findings stated in the report issued to you by the DHA, you may be entitled to compensation which may be claimed from the clinic (the “Clinic”). However, publicising your case through media may attract both criminal and civil liabilities, under the prevailing laws of the UAE.

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At first, the provisions of Federal Law No. (3) of 1987 related to issuance of Penal Code (the “Penal Code”) may be referred. In the UAE, making a publicised statement may be considered defamatory, if it makes someone liable for punishment or contempt, regardless of the statement being true and correct in nature. An act of defamation, as such, is a punishable offence under Article 372 of the Penal Code, which reads as follows:

“Whoever attributes to another person, by any means of publicity, an incident which makes him liable to punishment or contempt, shall be punished by detention for a period not exceeding two years or by a fine not exceeding Dh20,000.

"Punishment by detention and a fine or by either of these two penalties shall be applied if the libel is committed against a public official or one who is in charge of a public service, during performance of the duties or public services assigned to him, or if the defamation affects the honour or injures the reputation of families, or if it is observed that it is intended to achieve an illegal purpose.

"If libel is committed by means of a publication in any of the newspapers or other printed media, it shall be considered an aggravating circumstance.”

You will need to exercise caution, even if you wish to publish statements against the Clinic by any electronic means (including social media, websites, SMS and email), as such an act may constitute the offence under Article 21 (3) of Federal Law No. (5) of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes (the "Cyber Crime Law").

Further, any such action may also give rise to civil liabilities against you. Article 282 of Federal Law No. (5) of 1985 On the Civil Transactions Law of the United Arab Emirates, (the Civil Transactions Law) reads as follows:

“The author of any tort, even if not discerning, shall be bound to repair the prejudice.”.

In view of the foregoing, should you, acting in the public interest, choose to publicise your case through media on the basis of the findings stated in the report the DHA had issued to you, the Clinic may file a criminal complaint against you with the police in response.

Upon investigation, if the Clinic’s complaint has merit, the police may open a case against you and the same will be referred to the public prosecutor for charges as applicable under the Penal Code and the Cyber Crime Law. The Clinic shall also have the right to seek damages and other civil remedies from you, under the provisions of the Civil Transactions Law of the UAE. You may therefore consult a legal practitioner in the UAE for further clarifications.

Ashish Mehta is the founder and Managing Partner of Ashish Mehta & Associates. He is qualified to practise law in Dubai, the United Kingdom and India. Full details of his firm on: www.amalawyers.com. Readers may e-mail their questions to: news@khaleejtimes.com or send them to Legal View, Khaleej Times, PO Box 11243, Dubai.

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