Can You Sue Someone for Online Harassment if You Have Limited Evidence?

criminal law


January 18, 2022



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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 cyberbullying include posting embarrassing photos of someone on social media or spreading lies about someone, even impersonating someone and sending mean messages in their name to others.

The UAE has taken into account the high risk posed by social media and other online platforms and its wider impact on the public and has issued the Federal Decree-Law No. 34/2021 Concerning the Fight Against Rumors and Cybercrime (Cybercrime Law) which deals with crimes taking place online, including cyber fraud, hacking, trolling or cyberbullying.

This is particularly relevant since 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.

Applicable Penalty:

Strict laws and penalties have been implemented by the UAE in its efforts to curb online defamation and cyberbullying practices. For instance, article 43 of the Cybercrime Law states that “Everyone insults another person or attributes to him an event that may render him subject to punishment or contempt by others, by using information network, information technology method or information system shall be sentenced to detention and/or to pay fine of not less than (250,000) two hundred fifty thousand Dirhams and not more than (500,000) five hundred thousand Dirhams.

Further, Article 44 of the Cybercrime Law also states that “Everyone uses electronic information system or information technology method to make any alteration or processing of a recording, image or footage for purpose of defamation or abuse of another person shall be sentenced to detention for a period of not less than one year and/or to pay fine of not less than (250,000) two hundred fifty thousand Dirhams and not more than (500,000) five hundred thousand Dirhams.”

Defamation is often a core element of cybercrime or trolling incidents, and it also constitutes a criminal offence under UAE laws. Article 425 of Federal Decree-Law No 31 of 2021 On the Issuance of the Crimes and Penalties Law provides as follows.

“Any person defaming another person in any way publicly, by imputing a fact to him which may render him subject to punishment or contempt, shall be liable to a jail sentence for a period not exceeding two (2) years or a fine not exceeding AED twenty thousand (20,000)...

If the defamation “qazf” is committed by way of publishing in any newspaper or publication, such matter shall be considered an aggravating circumstance.”

Additionally, Article 426 of the UAE Penal Code also states that “Any person insulting another person in any way publicly which may injure his honour or dignity without any imputation of a certain fact against him, shall be liable to a jail sentence for a period not exceeding one (1) year or a fine not exceeding AED twenty thousand (20,000)...”

When someone is facing online harassment, immediate steps must be taken by the victim to launch a police complaint, including a cybercrime 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. 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.

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