Is cyber bullying treated as a criminal offense in the UAE?

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With the advancement of technology, the drawbacks of the excessive use of the internet, such as cyber bullying, hacking, online frauds, etc. is also coming to light. Cyber bullying is commonly understood as targeting, harassing, or threatening others on the internet by sending negative, false or harmful text or messages, sharing images or content without permission. Cyber bullying is a very real threat and a danger to communities in today’s digital age.

How do the UAE Laws deal with cyberbullying?

The United Arab Emirates has recently issued a new law on tackling cybercrime, rumors and fake news, called the Federal Decree Law No. 34 of 2021 (Cybercrime Law). The Cybercrime Law replaced the previously existing law on cybercrime (Federal Decree Law No. 5 of 2012).

Cyberbullying can take many forms. It could be in the form of defaming or insulting another person through the information technology network. It could also include circulating personal photos or videos online without permission. It could also involve extortion.

The Cybercrime Law provides punishment for all such actions and in some cases, even provides criminal sanctions for violations. Some of the violations and their prescribed penalties under the Cybercrime Law are mentioned below.

Insults: Under the Cybercrime Law, any person who insults another person or attributes to him an action which could make him subject to punishment or contempt by others, through online means, will be subject to penalties under Article 43. The penalties could be imprisonment and / or fines, between AED 250,000 and AED 500,000. Article 43 does not prescribe a minimum sentence for imprisonment.

Electronic Extortion: The Cybercrime Law also punishes electronic extortion under Article 42. If a person commits an action which could be treated as extortion or threatens to induce a person to perform or abstain from an act online will be punishable with imprisonment of up to 2 years and / or fines ranging between AED 250,000 to AED 500,000 under Article 42/1.

Article 42/2 also clarifies that provisional imprisonment of up to 10 years could be imposed if a threat to commit a crime or ascribing honor is accompanied by implied or express request to perform or abstain from an act.

Defamation: According to Article 44, use of electronic information system or information technology method to alter or process a recording, image or video with an aim to defame or abuse another person is punishable with imprisonment of at least 1 year and/ or pay fines ranging between AED 250,000 and AED 500,000.

Circulating images without consent: Cyber bullying commonly involves unauthorized circulation of personal pictures of individuals without their consent.  Any creation, management or supervision of a website or transmission, circulating, displaying pornography or anything harmful to public morals on the information network is punishable under Article 34. The penalties include imprisonment and /or fines of AED 250,000 to AED 500,000.

Even producing, sending or storing such content for exploitation, distribution or even display online will be subject to the same penalty as above.

The punishments are stricter if the content involves children or is designed to seduce children. The punishments for using children in pornography could entail imprisonment and fines of up to AED 1,000,000 under Article 35.

Conclusion

It is clear that the UAE laws impose strict penalties for actions which could be considered as cyber bullying. These penalties are especially relevant because any content which is uploaded on the internet is available online for a long period of time, or could have been saved to devices even if the original content was deleted.

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