The recent case of the Emirati man who was caught on video assaulting an Indian truck driver and the controversial video footage posted on the web, put the UAE’s defamation law in the spotlight.
The man who documented the incident posted the video on YouTube. It sparked numerous comments from both Emiratis and expatriates, who continued to share the footage on social media websites.
After the offender’s son approached the authorities saying the video had tainted his father’s reputation, the man who took the video was taken into custody.
Dubai Police reasoned that this was because the videographer chose to share the proof of the assault with the public instead of doing so discreetly by handing it over to the police.
“UAE law states that one should not take photographs or videos of other individuals without their permission, consent or knowledge and publish them anywhere. If the images are not published however, there is no court case,” said Ali Al Abbadi, an Abu Dhabi-based lawyer.
This means that if still or live images of a person are taken without their approval, but are kept private, the owner of the content will not be penalised by law, he added. According to Al Abbadi, the Court of Misdemeanours handles such cases, which can be punishable by jail term and/or a fine.
“These can range from a minimum of one month to up to three years in prison and a fine of a minimum of Dh1,000 to Dh30,000,” he said.
The reason that such lawsuits are normally filed is because they can be harmful to individuals’ reputations which can affect their social ties and employment status, experts said.
According to the Arab Social Media Report website, the UAE has the highest Facebook penetration rate (41.6 per cent) in the region, as of last May.
“Libel cases are most commonly seen among the younger generation, which is constantly using social media. The subject of an offensive picture posted may file a lawsuit against the individual who posted the photo,” said Hussain Al Jaziri, a legal expert.
“Even a text message between friends, which defames another individual, can be used as evidence to prove that the sender of the message, which is essentially a written form of gossip, had ill intentions of tainting the subject’s reputation,” Al Jaziri added.
In all libel cases, the offensive material must be presented to authorities as proof that the crime has been committed.
In situations where the defamation was only verbal (slander), evidence can be presented by a witness who heard the words.
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