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UAE Bloggers Beware of Possible Criminal Charges

It is well known that many Middle Eastern states, such as the United Arab Emirates, put restrictions on their citizens’ internet usage, preventing access to certain services. Internet users in the UAE might be under the impression that the anonymity and openness of many social websites means they are beyond the reach of local laws, however, posting a comment or writing a blog in the UAE can easily result in a lawsuit if the writer is not careful about the content.

Bloggers should be aware that an online post is subject to the same laws as a newspaper or magazine article in the UAE, and therefore is subject to legal action, or even criminal charges, if it is considered offensive, insolent or derogatory.

“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 in Clyde & Co, explained to the media.

In addition to individual responsibility, an employer is also liable for staff activity on social networks, especially if that activity can be classified as insult, defamation or harassment, according to the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and Qatar Financial Center (QFC) employment law.

Clyde & Co reported that “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”.

In November 2009, Gulf News reported that a 26-year-old man had confessed before the Dubai Misdemeanor Court that he has uploaded pictures of his colleague on Facebook, posting some defamatory comment under each of the photos.

Just last month, Mark Makhoul, a Lebanese expat living in Kuwait, was sued for posting a negative review of a restaurant on his very popular blog. He was sued by Kuwaiti branch of the Benihana restaurants chain. Mark has characterized the food from the restaurant as ‘disappointing’, ‘undercooked’ and ‘chewy’. Those words may cost him $17,600, which is what Benihana is now seeking in compensation. The court decision has not yet been made.

The definition and boundaries of defamation, according to the UAE penal code, includes any false accusations or statements, where an individual or corporation would be desecrated and defiled through a spitefully written post.

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