UAE: 5 Filipino expats held over TikTok video to meet consulate lawyer today

Majority of the expats who had been involved in such cases were unaware that their actions were considered illegal, expert says

by

Angel Tesorero

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Reuters file photo
Reuters file photo

Published: Tue 11 Apr 2023, 3:38 PM

Last updated: Wed 12 Apr 2023, 6:05 AM

The legal counsel and a representative from the Philippine Consulate’s ATN (Assistance to Nationals) desk will meet on Wednesday with the five Filipino expatriates who were detained in Sharjah after reportedly posting an indecent video on TikTok.

Philippine Consul-General Renato Dueñas Jr. last week told Khaleej Times they are closely monitoring the case.

“The consulate understands that the case is still undergoing investigation by Sharjah Public Prosecution. The consulate, through its retained legal counsel, will provide the necessary legal assistance to those arrested,” assured Dueñas, adding: “Filipinos in the UAE are advised to respect the customs of the host government and be mindful of content that they post on social media.”

The issue arose after a group of Filipinos reportedly uploaded a video "just for fun". “They had no idea it could get them into legal trouble. They were mistaken for prostitutes," said a sibling of one of those arrested.

3-5 cases a month

A legal expert has revealed that these Filipinos are not the only ones facing cybercrime-related cases in the UAE. In fact, he is seeing an average of three to five such cases every month.

Dubai-based migrant rights advocate Barney Almazar said: “Majority of the offenders were unaware their actions were considered illegal. They have no intent to violate any laws. Ignorance of the law, however, is not an excuse from compliance therewith. This recent incident involving five Filipinos could have been easily avoided had they familiarised themselves with the UAE laws.”

“Sadly, since we started the free legal aid at the Philippine Embassy and Consulate in 2013, we are still getting about three to five cases a month involving Filipinos related to cybercrime violations,” added Almazar, who is a member of the Philippine Bar and holder of a UAE legal consultancy licence.

‘Be mindful’

Almazar advised: “Filipinos should be mindful that the laws of the Philippines may be different from the laws of the UAE. Especially during the holy month of Ramadan, we should be sensitive not to offend the citizens of the host country.”

Under Article 17 of the UAE Cybercrime Law, online posting of pornographic materials, gambling activities or whatever may afflict public morals is punishable by imprisonment and a fine of up to Dh500,000. The offender may also face deportation after the service of sentence.

Last month, the Sharjah Police arrested a group of Asian nationals for promoting “immoral acts” through a video that went viral on social media.

A top police official said that the authority will not tolerate those disrespecting social customs. “We are prepared to confront any situation in which negative or immoral behaviour affects public discipline,” the officer added.

The official added that authorities “strive to ensure a decent, safe environment for residents.” He also hailed community members for cooperating with the authorities and playing a positive role.

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Common misconceptions

Almazar, who is also director at Gulf Law in the UAE, Philippines, UK and Portugal, noted that there are two common misconceptions about the UAE Cybercrime Law.

"First, it is not true that truthfulness of the contents of a post is a defence. Even if the post is true and correct, as long there is a violation of privacy rights, the act will still be punishable," he said.

Second, group chats are covered under the cybercrime law. Many are of the impression that cybercrime laws only apply to social media. The truth is it applies to all information shared in any electronic information systems — such as WhatsApp, blogs, and emails.

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As a remedy, Almazar said: “The Philippine government should re-examine its methods in preparing Filipinos before their deployment abroad. The pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS) is actually a requirement for the overseas employment certificate /exit pass but it appears that more emphasis must be made on the awareness of the host country laws.”

“We are actually in contact with the Philippine Congress so we can revisit the loopholes in the laws protecting the migrant Filipinos. The law for the creation of an OFW handbook has been enacted and we hope that Filipinos will be better prepared when they work abroad,” Almazar added.

Create with caution

Filipino film director and content producer Patrick Fronda also has some advice to his kababayans (compatriots): “Let us be careful when we post videos or photos online, even if we intended them as a joke. Not everyone will laugh at the gag, there are others that might get offended.”

He added: “My advice is before you post anything online, carefully study the content first before you think it will go viral. Create and be creative but always with caution.”

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