Reputation, libel, insult and disclosure of secrets in the UAE

15 Nov, 2021
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Cyrus Izibili

LEGAL ADVISOR

This legal article shall highlight the effect of an insult, whether true or false, on the perpetrator and the victim of such an action. The legal instruments are established to be used by the authorities having judicial powers as per the following laws and regulations: Federal Law No. 35 of 1992 Concerning the Criminal Procedural Law, Federal Law No. 3 also known as the United Arab Emirates Penal Code, Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combatting Cybercrimes, and Federal Law No. 1 of 1987 Concerning Civil Transactions Law of the United Arab Emirates. To understand such legal instruments in this article, one must familiarise themselves with the following terms: defamation, slander, libel, and insult. This article may further comment on the consequences of disclosure of secrets in the United Arab Emirates (the ‘UAE’).

An individual or more may seek to use a legal instrument provided by the UAE judicial powers in light of the effect of (1) defamation: an act of communication of a false statement about another that harms their reputation, (2) slander: a false statement about someone that damages their reputation, (3) libel: the act of publishing a false statement that causes people to have a wrong opinion of someone, and (4) an insult: to treat with insolence, indignity, or contempt and (5) disclosure of secrets, the act or an instance of disclosing a secret.

Where an individual or more are victims to the above-mentioned defamation, libel, and/or insult, they may invoke the use of Federal Law No. 35 of 1992 Concerning the Criminal Procedural Law, Article 10: ‘A victim, or their legal representative, may proceed with a verbal or written complaint to lodge a criminal action in… (4) insult and slander and (5) other crimes specified by law. The complaint shall not be accepted after the lapse of three months as of the victim’s knowledge of the crime and its perpetrator.’

Perpetrators face hefty legal repercussions if found guilty of defamation, libel, and/or insult. These legal repercussions are outlined in ‘UAE Penal Code Articles 372 – Articles 378’ and ‘Laws Combatting Cybercrimes Article 20 – 21’. The legal instruments set in place explore a variety of harm a victim of defamation, libel, and/or an insult may suffer. The repercussions are capped at a prison sentence not exceeding seven years and a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand dirhams.

Federal Law No. 3 UAE Penal Code:

1. Article 372:

  • ‘a jail sentence, not exceeding two years, or a fine not more than twenty thousand, for whoever attributes to another, through means of publicity, a fact that makes him object of punishment or of contempt.’
  • ‘a jail sentence and/or a fine in case the libel is perpetrated against a public servant, or a person in charge of public service, during or because of the discharge of their duties or performing the public service, or if it affects honour or the reputation of the families, or if it is expected to fulfil an illicit purpose.’
  • ‘In case the libel is done by means of publication in one of the newspapers or printed material, this shall be considered an aggravating circumstance.’

2. Article 373: 

  • ‘An insult, to another person, publicly, which harms their honour, or dignity, without attributing any specific incident, shall be punished by jail sentence for no more than one year, or a fine of not more than twenty thousand dirhams.’
  • ‘any person who insults a public servant, or a person entrusted with a public service, in the course of, due to or by reason of fulfilment of the public duty or service, or if such insult harms the honour or damages the reputation of families, or aiming to achieve an unlawful purpose, shall be punished by a jail sentence for no more than two years, and a fine not less than twenty thousand dirhams and not more than fifty thousand dirhams, or by either one of these two penalties.’
  • ‘If the defamation is committed by way of publication in any newspaper, or publications, such a matter shall be an aggravating circumstance.’

3. Article 373:

  • ‘Any person who insults another person… shall be punished by a jail sentence for no more than one year or a fine of not more than twenty thousand dirhams.’
  • ‘Any person who insults a public servant or a person entrusted with a public service… shall be punished by a jail sentence for no more than two years and a fine of not less than twenty thousand dirhams and not more than fifty thousand dirhams, or by either one of these two penalties.’
  • ‘If the defamation is committed by way of publication in any newspaper, or publications, such a matter shall be an aggravating circumstance.’

4. Article 374:

  • ‘Jail sentence for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding five thousand dirhams in case the libel or insult takes place through the telephone of facing the victim in the presence of others.’
  • ‘A fine not exceeding five thousand dirhams 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 any means whatsoever.’
  • ‘If the defamation is committed by way of publication in any newspaper, or publications, such a matter shall be an aggravating circumstance if the libel or insult, in the instances stated in the two foregoing paragraphs, is addressed to a public servant or a person in charge of a public service, during or because of discharging their duties or performing their service, or if affecting their honour or the reputation of the families, or if expected to reach an illicit objective.’

5. Article 375:

  • Where its attribution is addressed to a public servant or a person in charge of a public service and the fact is connected to their employment or service there shall be no crime if the offender establishes that the fact attributed is true.’
  • ‘The insult may be established if it emanates from the offender himself and is associated with the libel.’
  • ‘Where more than five years has passed, or if the crime has been foreclosed, or if the judgement rendered has been forfeited, then evidence may not be established.’

6. Article 376:

  • ‘There shall be no crime for the libel or insult included in the verbal or written defence of the parties to the litigation before the courts or investigation authorities, provided it is within the limits allowed to the right of defence.’

7. Article 377:

  • ‘There shall be no crime in reporting, in good faith, to the judicial or administrative authorities a matter calling for the responsibility of its author.’

8. Article 378:

  • ‘A jail sentence for a period not exceeding seven years and to a fine for violating the private, or familial life of individuals, unless authorised by law, or without victim’s consent, even if correct:

                    a. Eavesdropping, recording, transmitting conversations.

                    b. Capturing, or transmitting picture(s).’

Federal Decree-Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes:

1. Article 20:

  • ‘Imprisonment and a fine not less than two hundred fifty thousand dirhams and not more than five hundred thousand dirhams 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 slander or insult is committed against a public official or servant during or because of their work, this shall be considered an aggravating factor of the crime.’

2. Article 21:

  • ‘Imprisonment of a period of at least six months and a fine, not less than one hundred and fifty thousand dirhams and not more than five hundred thousand dirhams, or either of the two penalties for whoever uses a computer network or electronic information system… for the invasion of privacy of another person in other than the cases allowed:

                          a. Eavesdropping, interception, recording, transferring, transmitting, disclosure, communications, audio, or visual materials.

                          b. Photography, creation, transferring, disclosing, copying, or saving electronic photos.

                          c. Publishing news, electronic photos, photographs, scenes, comments, statements, or information even if true and correct.’

  • ‘Punishment for a period of at least one year and a fine not less than two hundred and fifty thousand dirhams and not more than five hundred thousand dirhams, or either of these two penalties… for amending or processing a record, photo, scene, for the purpose of defamation of or offending another person or for attacking or invading their privacy using electronic information system or any information technology means.’

Perpetrators face hefty legal repercussions if found guilty of disclosure of secrets. These legal repercussions are outlined in ‘UAE Penal Code Articles 379 and Articles 380’ and ‘Laws Combatting Cybercrimes Article 22’. The legal instruments set in place explore a variety of harm a victim of disclosure of secrets may suffer. The repercussions are capped at a prison sentence not exceeding seven years and a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand dirhams.

Federal Law No. 3 UAE Penal Code:

1. Article 379:

  • ‘A jail sentence for a minimum period of one year, not exceeding five years and/or to a minimum fine of twenty thousand dirhams, whoever is entrusted with a secret and divulges such secret, or if used for their own personal interest, or for the interest of another person.’

2. Article 380:

  • ‘Perpetrator shall be subject to a jail sentence for a minimum term of three months or to a minimum fine of five thousand dirhams, if he discloses the contents of the letter cable or conversation to other than the addressee thereto and without their consent, whenever such act results in a prejudice to others.’
  • (bis) ‘any person who unlawfully reproduces, distributes, or provides others with the content of call, message, information, data, or other issues which came to their knowledge by virtue of their work shall be punished by a jail sentence.’

Federal Decree-Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes:

1. Article 22:

  • ‘Imprisonment for a period of at least six months and a fine not less than five hundred thousand dirhams and not more than one million dirhams or either of these two penalties whoever uses, without authorisation, any computer network, website or information technology means to disclose confidential information which he has obtained in the course of or because of their work.’

The legal instrument that could be used to protect the reputation, or repair the damage on the reputation, of an individual, or more is the Federal Law No. 1 of 1987 Concerning Civil Transactions Law of the UAE, Article 282: that states where ‘any harm done to another shall render the actor, even though not a person of discretion, liable to make good the harm.’

Regarding the laws on the protection of reputation, protection of privacy, and non-disclosure of secrets, the UAE has legal instruments. It should be noted that one must be careful of their speech, breach of privacy, and, more importantly, all agreements entered in the UAE.

 

Cyrus Izibili

Legal Consultant

 

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