WhatsApp swearing could lead to jail in UAE

Britons travelling to Dubai warned that 'insults' sent on the messaging service could result in £45,000 fine or deportation

(Image credit: 2014 Getty Images)

People in the United Arab Emirates could face jail time and a hefty fine for swearing on WhatsApp under the country's strict new cyber laws.

An Arab man prosecuted for swearing at a colleague via the instant messaging app is facing a retrial and a fine of up to £45,000 after prosecutors argued that his the previous fine of £523 was too lenient.

The exact words used by the man were not revealed in court, but lawyers said they were "insulting", according to Arab news site 7Days UAE.

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"Be careful of what you send on smartphones or emails," said a senior Dubai Police official. "It's up to the recipient to open a criminal case if they feel offended by a message."

Britons travelling to hotspots like Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been advised that the rules apply to tourists and expats too, and the Daily Telegraph warns that they could face deportation.

Last month, Emirati police and lawyers said that sending a "middle finger" emoji symbol could result in offenders facing three years in jail and a hefty £87,000 fine under the same law.

However, friends who use the image in a lighthearted manner will not necessarily be prosecuted, as an official complaint would have to be filed.

"With the development of technology, people have started insulting others on social media using services like WhatsApp or BlackBerry messenger," said criminal defence lawyer Abdullah Yousef Al Nasir. "Some people insult or mock others thinking nobody can prosecute them," he said. "But the UAE has issued a cyber-crimes law to punish anyone committing any crime like insulting someone using technology."

Earlier this year, a woman in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 70 lashes for insulting a man on the same messaging service.

The details of the message were not made public, but the 32-year old woman was also required to pay a fine of 20,000 riyals (£3,600) for "tarnishing" the man's reputation.

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