UAE public warned of tougher penalties for online abuse

Prosecutors issue reminder of fines and potential jail term for slander on an information network

The public have been reminded about the dangers of using foul language to express anger or insult others online.

It is illegal in the UAE to swear or slander someone on an information network, which includes social media or messaging services such as WhatsApp.

Prosecutors this week issued a warning, stating that people found guilty could be sentenced to jail and fined up to Dh500,000 ($136,160).

The legal authorities said the laws were designed to tackle the misuse of online platforms.

“Heavier punishments will be sought for acts against public sector employees in the line of duty or a person assigned to perform a public service,” the UAE Public Prosecution said in a tweet.

Three months to report offences

Legal adviser Mohammed Najeeb told The National the UAE had taken a firm stance on maintaining a respectful and responsible online environment by introducing stricter measures against using profane language on social media platforms.

“Swearing crimes have been changed during the digital era," he said. "In the past, people used to be face-to-face and use offensive language [to each other]. But now it can happen with a click of a button on your phone.

“People should be cautious of what they write on social media. Victims of online swearing can report the incident, even after three months of posting or sending the offensive content.”

Mr Najeeb said the severity of the punishment would depend on the nature and extent of the offence.

“The exact punishment is determined by the court, taking into consideration the specific circumstances of the case,” he said.

“Sometimes judges use leniency against violators but there have been strict verdicts issued by the Supreme Court after appeals from the Public Prosecution.”

Several cases involving online swearing or offensive language prompted authorities to issue the reminder this week.

Dubai Criminal Court on Monday found an Egyptian man guilty of insulting a work colleague on WhatsApp by calling him a "hustler".

Court documents showed the man had issues at work with the victim and used the offensive term in a message sent in June last year.

“I received several WhatsApp messages from the defendant,” the victim said in records. "In one message he called me 'hustler' and I reported the incident to Al Rashidiya police station."

The defendant admitted sending the messages but said he had not meant to offend the victim. He said the work problems had provoked him into sending the messages.

The defendant was ordered to pay a fine of Dh5,000.

“The messages have outrageous phrases that offended the victim,” the court said in its verdict.

Social media influencer offends hospital

A Dubai-based social media influencer was last year fined Dh5,000 for insulting and defaming a local hospital after posting a video to her followers saying doctors did not know how to deal with patients.

The Iraqi woman, who has more than 100,000 followers on her Instagram account, added a poll to ask them if they supported her claims about the hospital.

According to court records, the woman was upset after her mother went to the hospital in January last year for treatment and was left with bruises after giving blood samples.

“I posted about the incident that happened to my mother on my Instagram. The hospital considers it an insult,” said the woman in official records.

"I made a complaint to the hospital and after two weeks they told me there is no mistake and it is normal to have blue marks after taking samples.

“I deleted the video and the poll.”

She was charged with insulting the hospital through a post on Instagram. Dubai Criminal Court issued a fine of Dh5,000 and the Dubai Court of Appeal upheld the verdict in January this year.

The case has also been referred to Dubai Civil Court for compensation.

Mr Najeeb encouraged people to be mindful of their language and respect cultural norms when engaging in online conversations, social media posts or any form of digital communication.

“By adhering to these guidelines and fostering a positive online atmosphere, individuals can contribute to a respectful and inclusive digital society in the UAE,” he added.

Updated: May 19, 2023, 12:32 PM