Calling someone 'silly' in UAE can land you in jail
Face fines of up to Dh500,000.
Don't say bad words nor call people 'silly' or 'stupid', unless you want to end up in jail in the UAE.
Over the last few months, at least two people had faced trial in the country on the grounds that they had allegedly insulted their friends.
In October, a man called a woman he wanted to get engaged with 'fool' in a WhatsApp message, prompting her to file a case. He got fined Dh20,000. Earlier this month, during a football match in Sharjah, a man reportedly called his co-worker 'silly'. He is currently standing trial.
Insults punishable by law in the UAE
Online insults and slander
Direct insults (any publicity means)
One-year jail term
Direct insults over the phone / facing the victim in the presence of others
Six-month jail term
*Higher penalties are imposed if insults are directed to public officials.
Regardless of whether profanities are expressed as half-meant jokes or as part of a casual conversation, an insult is an insult - and it is a crime, according to the laws of the country.
Mahmoud Azab, lawyer and consultant at Al Wasl International Group, said criminal punishments for insults differ depending on whether these were delivered "directly or face-to-face" or via online channels and social media.
"Direct insult or libel is punishable in accordance with the federal penal code, but when it happens online or through social media or mobile apps, it would be punishable in accordance with the federal law combating cybercrimes. The latter leads to heavier sentences or fines," Azab said.
Article 373 of the federal penal code states that anyone who "casts another, by any publicity means, with any statement that affects his honour or dignity" shall be sentenced to a jail term not exceeding a year and a fine of up to Dh10,000. Penalties are higher if the insult has been directed to a public official or has affected families.
On the other hand, offensive language delivered via online platforms - including WhatsApp - is considered a cybercrime and shall be punishable by "imprisonment and a fine not less than Dh250,000 and not in excess of Dh500,000", according to Federal Decree Law No. 5 of 2012.
Azab said as long as a person was offended by an insult or an obscene gesture, it would be considered a violation of law. "A person I know from Asia was jailed and deported because of an obscene gesture," he added.
Ashish Mehta, founder and managing partner of international law firm Ashish Mehta and Associates, said the law is applicable to all and it doesn't matter whether the insult was used against a friend or a stranger.
"I believe people should be responsible for their acts or behaviour, they should be careful when they talk to others personally or on a social media platforms to avoid such cases," Mehta said.
What the law says about insults
Federal Penal Code:
Shall be sentenced to detention for a term not exceeding one year or to a fine not in excess of Dh10,000. Whoever casts another, by any publicity means, with any statement that affects his honour or dignity without attributing to him a specific fact.
The penalty shall be detention for a term not exceeding two years and a fine not in excess of Dh20,000 - in both instances, or one of those two penalties - if the insult is addressed to a public servant or a person in charge of a public service, during or because of the discharge of his duties or performing the public service, or if it affects honour or reputation of the families, or if expected to fulfil an illicit purpose.
Shall be sentenced to detention for a maximum period of six months or to a fine not exceeding Dh5,000 in case the libel or insult takes place through the telephone or facing the victim in the presence of others.
The penalty shall be a fine not exceeding Dh5,000 if the libel or insult takes place facing the victim without the presence of a third party or in a letter dispatched to him by an means whatsoever. Shall be considered an aggravating circumstance if the libel or insult - in the stances stated in the paragraphs hereinabove - is addressed to a public servant or a person in charge of a public service, during or because of discharging his duties or performing his service, or if affecting his honour or the reputation of the families, or if expected to reach an illicit objective.
Federal Decree Law No. 5 of 2012:
(Issued on 25 Ramadan 1433 AH Corresponding to 13 August 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes)
Without prejudice to the crime of slander determined by the Islamic Sharia, shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine not less than Dh250,000 and not in excess of Dh500,000 or either of these two penalties whoever insults or accuses another person of a matter of which he shall be subject to punishment or being held in contempt by others, by using a computer network or an information technology means. If a slander or insult is committed against a public official or servant in the course of or because of his work, this shall be considered an aggravating factor of the crime.
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