Mind your language Image Credit: XPRESS/Ador T. Bustamante

Dubai: Using the 'F-word', irrespective of the person’s nationality or context, is a crime punishable by law in the UAE, legal and language experts have said.

Last week the Dubai Courts heard a case in which a Western expat was accused of insulting a telecom operator staff when he used the 'F-word'. But it was argued in court that the man had only used a figurative expression and did not mean to inflict an insult.

As it turns out, there are many cases involving the 'F-word' in the courts. But there is confusion on what constitutes language etiquette in the UAE and more important, the legal implications of the free use of slang, especially the 'F-word', in public.

Advocate Khalid Abdel Wahab of Al Midfa Advocates & Legal Consultants said: “There are several cases involving the use of the 'F-word' in the criminal court. I have personally handled a few cases. The word is a crime in itself to be used in this part of the world. Whether or not a person using it means otherwise such us “get lost” or “don’t bug me” (as described by many expats as being part of their culture when they find out that they are implicated in a criminal case in this country), it does not help.”

He said: “In one of the cases I handled, my client was a European expat (complainant) and another European expat (the accused) used the words ‘F*** off’ against him and I pleaded to the judge that if the person is disgracing the honour of my client, he needs to be punished.

“Over here you will notice that both were Europeans, but still one was hurt at the other one using abusive language – even if it is a part of their culture, there are people who do not like to be disrespected. I stated to the court that it might mean anything in their culture, but here it sounds and is understood as abusive and disrespectful.”

Wahab said: “The consideration of crime in this country does not depend on the culture of another country. The other side was declared guilty.”

What the law says

But what exactly is the law regarding use of such words in the UAE?

According to Wahab, Article 373 of the Penal Code clearly states that: “Detention for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding Dh10,000 shall be imposed upon anyone who, by any means of publicity, disgraces the honour or the modesty of another person without attributing any particular act to the defamed party.
“Detention for a period not exceeding two years and a fine not exceeding Dh20,000, or either of these two, shall apply if a public official or one who is in charge of a public service has been abused during, because of, or on the occasion of performing his duty or public service, if the abuse affects the honour or injures the reputation of families, or it is noticed that the abuse is intended to achieve an illegal purpose.

“However, if the abuse is published in any newspaper or printed media, it shall be considered an aggravated case.

Wahab said Article 374 of the same code also states: “Punishment by detention for a period not exceeding six months or by a fine not exceeding Dh5,000 shall apply if slander or abuse is transmitted by telephone, or face to face with the victim and in the presence of a third party.

“Punishment by a fine not exceeding Dh5,000 shall be imposed if slander or abuse occurs face to face with the victim alone without the presence of a third party. It shall be considered an aggravated case, if libel or abuse is committed in any of the cases mentioned in the preceding two paragraphs, against a public official or one who is in charge of a public service during, because of or on the occasion of performing the duty or public service, it affects the honour or injures the reputation of families or if it is noticed that it achieves an illicit purpose.”

A language expert said using the 'F-word' is not acceptable even from a purely etiquette point of view. Abu Shaqra, General Manager of the iEnglish language institute said: “Street language is not acceptable."