Think twice before you tweet, blog or post a comment on a blog here in the UAE.
If construed to be “defamatory” you are liable to face criminal charges if the aggrieved party seeks legal remedy, according to legal experts in the country.
“In the UAE, defamation is a criminal offence and is provided for in the penal code, although civil remedies are also available for which damages may be awarded. Whilst the penal code does not specifically address social networking sites or blogs, or even refers to the Internet, publication in a newspaper is referred to as an aggravating circumstance. On the basis of previous defamation cases relating to Internet publications, it is very likely that publication on a blog or a social networking site would be considered akin to publication in a newspaper,” Sapna Jhangiani, Senior Associate, Middle East Dispute Resolution Group, Clyde & Co, told Emirates 24|7.
However, she stresses the key question will be to ascertain if the material published is defamatory.
The definition of defamatory in the UAE penal code covers a false accusation, which would dishonour or discredit an individual, or the imputation of an incident exposing an individual to public hatred or contempt.
The penal code only refers to individuals, but in practice, defamation suits have been pursued by both individuals and companies.
On Tuesday, Mark Makhoul, a Lebanese living in Kuwait, who runs a popular blog, was sued by the newly-launched Benihana outlet at the Avenues for posting a negative review of the restaurant.
Benihana is seeking the payment of KD5001 as a compensation for the damages Mark has said he will fight the case in court.
However, bloggers across the region we concerned that should Mark lose the case; it might set a precedent for the GCC and restrict the freedom of bloggers.In 2007, Agence France-Presse reported an Emirati was charged with defamation and was ordered to pay the equivalent of $19,000 in fines and compensation to the plaintiff.
A Gulf News report in November 2009 said a 26-year-old man had admitted before the Dubai Misdemeanours Court that he had uploaded several pictures on Facebook of his business partner and posted under each of them a libelous comment.
Besides an individual, an employer can also be held liable for actions of his/her employee on social networking sites, under the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) employment law.
“Under DIFC and QFC employment law, an employer may be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees, for example bullying or harassing a colleague by comments made on Facebook or Twitter,” Clyde & Co said in recent report.