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Online harassment or cyberbullying can be defined as the practice of ‘using electronic communication to bully a person, which could be by sending messages which are of a threatening or intimidating nature’. Instances that can be considered as cyberbullying includes posting embarrassing photos of someone on social media or spreading lies about someone, even impersonating someone and sending means messages in their name to others. Reports show that children are often easy prey for cyberbullying, and hence it is even more critical that strict laws exist to condone such acts.
The UAE has taken into account the high risk posed by social media and other online platforms and its wider impact on the public. There are strict laws in effect to govern cases involving social media elements and online acts such as trolling or cyberbullying. Particularly as social media and other online platforms pose a very high risk in defamatory matters because the underlying technology allows for information to be quickly disseminated and shared amongst a multitude of people. The UAE laws very particularly deal an action via an online medium to be same as if the defamation was committed through the printed medium of newspapers, magazines etc.
Strict laws and penalties have been implemented by the UAE in its efforts to curb online defamation and cyberbullying practices. For instance, article 20 of the Federal Decree by Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cyber Crimes and its amendments (“Cyber Crimes Law”) states that, “Without prejudice to the provisions of slander crime prescribed in Islamic Sharia, any person who insults a third party or has attributed to him an incident that may make him subject to punishment or contempt by a third party, by using an Information Network or an Information Technology Tool shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine not less than (AED 250,000) and not exceeding (AED500,000) or by any of these punishments. Defamation is often a core element to cyber-crime or trolling incidents, and the same constitutes a criminal offence under the UAE laws. Article 372 Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 and its amendments (The UAE Penal Code) states that “Whoever attributes to another person, by any means of publicity, an incident which makes him liable to punishment or contempt, shall be punished by detention for a period not exceeding two years or by a fine not exceeding Dh20,000”.
When someone is facing online harassment, it is important that immediate steps are taken by the victim to launch a police complaint, including a cybercrimes complaint. Collecting evidence or tracking a cybercriminal can be tedious, mostly due to the nonlocal character of a cybercrime, wherein the offence could originate even in a foreign jurisdiction and thus require international cooperation amongst international law enforcement agencies. Needless to say, cybercrimes can be difficult to prove and prosecute as the criminal often hides in the relative anonymity offered by the internet. The pertinent question is, therefore, not whether there exists enough evidence for the offender to be convicted, but whether timely action is being undertaken to file the complaint in the first place, as this constitutes a crucial factor in itself.