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In every civil society, the freedom of speech is not absolute, and a balance is maintained between expressing opinions and maligning a person’s reputation through spreading false narratives or information. The image or reputation of an individual is considered as his/her property, and damaging that property would be an offense of “defamation”. The UAE has a very stringent law to curb defamation.

The Federal Law No. (3) of 1987 (UAE Penal Code) is the principal legislature that deals with the offense of defamation in the country. The defamation can be broadly classified in two categories: Libel and Slander. Libel refers to making false statements in writing or in a published form. For instance – Publishing a false information in a daily newspaper. On the other hand, slander refers to defaming someone orally or through gestures.

Essentials of Defamation
For constituting an offense of defamation, certain conditions need to be satisfied which are as follows-

  1. The statement must be defamatory and it is intended to lower the reputation of an individual in the society.
  2. The statement must be referring to the aggrieved party. It is important that both the direct as well as indirect reference are considered.
  3. The statement must be made in front of a third party.

Unlike other Jurisdictions, in UAE, defamation is not only treated as a civil wrong but it also entails criminal liabilities. Article 372-377 of the UAE Penal code deals with all the provisions of defamation. Article 372 of the Penal code states that if any person passes any false statement against a person through any means of publication, he/she shall be liable for defamation. The gravity of the offense will increase if the statement is made in a well-reputed journal or in a newspaper. This offense attracts an imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or a fine of 20,000 AED or both.

As per Article 373, if any person makes any false and insulting remark with an intention to damage the reputation of a person, he shall be punished with an imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or a fine of AED 20,000 or both. Further, if a person makes any defamatory statement through phone or letter, it is punishable under Article 374 of the UAE Penal code.

Defense Against Defamation
The main defense of defamation is truth. Article 375 of the Penal Code states that if the person is able to prove that the impugned statement is true, he shall not be liable for defamation. In case of defamation relating to a public servant, the main defense is to prove that the statement is related to his/her area of employment or service. Further, as per Article 376, the verbal or written statements made In defence by the parties to a litigation before the court are exempted from the offense of litigation.

In defamation, it is important to file a complaint within 3 months of passing such a statement. If the period exceeds 3 months, it is presumed that the defamed party has pardoned the defamer, and the court should not intervene in between.

Cyber Defamation
With the growing popularity of social media platforms, it is witnessed that people spread a plethora of negative, false and disgraceful information which could severely hamper a person’s reputation. This results in cyber or online defamation. The Federal Law No. (5) of 2012 (UAE Cyber Law) contains some provisions for cyber defamation. As per Article 20 of the same law, if a person passes false or accusatory statements against a person through computer or other information technology, he shall be punishable with both Imprisonment and a fine of not less than 2,50,000 AED.

In a nutshell, defamation is an act to injure a person’s reputation through spreading false news or information. There are strict laws to curb this practice. However, if you are defamed by someone, it is strongly advisable to visit a legal advisor and take action within 3 months of passing such a statement.

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