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Harassment Law in the U.A.E.

Harassment Law in the U.A.E.

Lawgical Lite with LYLAW and Tim Elliot

13 April 2021

Tim Elliot:  Welcome to another edition of Lawgical, the U.A.E.’s first legal podcast.  Lawgical comes to from the Dubai-based law firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka.  My name is Tim Elliot, socially distanced at Dubai’s JLT in Reef Tower.  The Jumeirah Lakes Towers District is where we are.  We’re high up at the firm’s offices, and I’m with the Managing Partner, Ludmila Yamalova.  As always, really good to see you.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Great to see you too, Tim.

Tim Elliot:  In this edition of Lawgical, we’re looking at Article 359 and Article 362 of the U.A.E. Penal Code and Law Number 3 of 2009.  This is specifically the area of the law here in the Emirates that deals with harassment.  Ludmila, we’ve been discussing at some length in recent podcasts the number of changes, a plethora of changes that we’ve seen to the Penal Code in recent months.  One area that has seen quite some change is that of attitudes, the legal framework that surrounds what is harassment, particularly the harassment of women.  It’s Article 359 of the Penal Code that I’d like to go over with you first of all, and this specifically covers the criminal law on harassment against women.  It also introduces much tougher penalties for contravention, doesn’t it?

Ludmila Yamalova:  Yes, indeed.  The amendment you referred to is in fact Federal Degree Law Number 15 of 2022, so quite a recent amendment.  This is an amendment of the U.A.E. Penal Code that was introduced back in 1987, and that was Law Number 3.  This particular amendment, or Law number 15 of just last year, 2020, introduced a number of groundbreaking changes to the Penal Code, but in particular with regards to the crime of harassment and the penalties associated with harassment, and in particular regarding women.  In relevant terms, according to the newly worded phrased Article 359, harassment against women in particular is now more severely punished by a jail sentence, a max of one year, and a fine of 100,000 dirhams.  Now this fine of 100,000 dirhams is quite significant because in the past the jail sentence was a lot shorter and the fine was a maximum of 10,000 dirhams.  So, now the fine has gone up from 10,000 to 100,000 dirhams.  If nothing else, the hope is that this will act as a great deterrent for anyone that perhaps in the past ubiquitously conducted themselves in the way that women in particular could consider, or deemed, as harassment.

Tim Elliot:  I’d like to bring in a look at Article 360 as well because Article 360 imposes a maximum of – I think it’s six months in prison – and a fine up to 100,000 dirhams for anyone who incites lewdness or debauchery.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Indeed.  That’s another, I guess, variation of harassment, another type of harassment, is that anyone that encourages or incites lewd behavior or debauchery, that is now also considered to have committed a crime, and the penalty in that case is up to 6 months in prison, but also a fine of 100,000 dirhams.  So again, perhaps a jail sentence is not as lengthy as other crimes, but the monetary fine is much more significant, which in relevant terms and in practical terms, we are talking about harassment.  Ultimately, what we want to do, is we want to change the attitudes and deter or discourage people from harassing.  Therefore, in most cases, that monetary penalty serves as the best form of deterrent.

Tim Elliot:  While it’s unwelcome, and it’s generally uncalled for, I’ve never considered cat calling or wolf whistling – I didn’t realize it was illegal in the Emirates, but Article 359 specifically states, doesn’t it, that cat calling or street or verbal harassment, however you want to term it, is punishable, and the penalties are both financial and potentially a prison sentence.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Indeed, and so harassment, as you rightfully said, is defined as any kind of verbal harassment as well as street harassment.  Street harassment specifically is mentioned, and street harassment is, as you rightfully said, is called cat calling.  In fact, I wasn’t really familiar with this term until recently.  (Laughing).

Tim Elliot: (Laughing).

Ludmila Yamalova:  And I was absolutely unfamiliar, and if not ignorant, about perhaps the extent of cat calling that happens in this country apparently.  I have since learned, apparently cat calling is quite a problem in this country amongst a lot of people that feel that they are constantly victims to unwanted cat calling and are feeling quite annoyed about it.  In the past, obviously they could not really do anything about it, but now that they know that harassment is defined as street harassment, and cat calling is an example of that, there has been quite a bit of enthusiasm, if you will, in the country about this particular news.

Tim Elliot:  The changes here bring another law into focus, and I mentioned it at the start of the podcast, Law Number 3 of 2009.  This refers to steps which some people in other jurisdictions and other countries take to protect themselves.  For example, pepper sprays, tasers, or stun guns.  One, it seems isn’t illegal, the other very definitely is illegal in the Emirates.

Ludmila Yamalova:  You’re right.  The law has quite, unexpectedly if you will, come in light of these new amendments in the Penal Code and the provisions on harassment, in particular is Federal Law Number 3 of 2009 regarding regulating weapons, ammunitions, and explosives in the country, a law that hasn’t in the past really been of much, perhaps, interest or application to at least our practice.  But questions regarding pepper spray, particularly in the context of harassment, have brought this particular law into a bit of a spotlight.  Law Number 3 of 2009 is the law that sets out what in terms of weapons or tools that are perhaps used for defensive purpose that are legal and illegal.  Now with regards to pepper spray, there is no specific provision in the law that makes pepper sprays or sprays in general illegal.  In other words, the law does not include any kind of references to spray bottles or anything that sprays in terms of weapons or ammunition or explosives.  Therefore, pepper spay per se is not illegal.  However, if the pepper spray or the spray bottle does include substances that might otherwise be illegal in the country, that sort of a spray bottle would therefore be illegal.  So, there are two parts to the spray.  The pepper spray, as they are often known, at least historically or traditionally included some type of pepper spray but most of the spray bottles include other kinds of substances.  As long as it is a pepper spray or the derivative of that, then it’s not banned in the country, but if we’re talking about substances that are on the ban list, then that is.  It is the substance, not the device or the gadget that is banned.

Tim Elliot:  Right.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Now, with regard to the taser guns, on the other hand, that is something else.  Based on the wording of Law Number 3 of 2009, taser guns or stun guns, as they are otherwise known or called, are in fact illegal.  This is because the law ultimately mentions stun guns as something that is banned in this country, and by the way, similarly, like with the case with drugs, any kind of importation of stun guns is also illegal, and this is by air, sea, or land, which means if you are coming into the U.A.E. from abroad and perhaps bringing a stun gun with you, or a taser gun, or something that may not be illegal in your country, will be considered criminal in the U.A.E. and you may as well be charged, not just with possession of a banned device but also importation, so you want to be very careful if you do have one of these gadgets to know that you should not be carrying those into this country in any shape or from.  The penalties, if you are found to have brought into the country or possess one of these stun guns, are imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of 10,000 dirhams.

Tim Elliot:  Final thoughts, and it’s a question I know we keep asking, but we have seen such a lot of changes lately.  What are your thoughts when it comes to the changes in the law?  How much do these changes, in particular in the area of harassment in the U.A.E., how much do these changes reflect a real societal change in attitude?    

Ludmila Yamalova:  Massively, but as I say that, this country, what has been in the books in terms of laws and what has been in practice are two separate things.  So, in practical terms, the society has been quite developed and progressive and has been evolving quite rapidly, but with regards to a legislative framework, it needed to be updated in order to bring it to the same level of as where the rest of society already was.  That is what is happening on the legislative front.  Obviously, the authorities in the country is treating this quite seriously, and they are now taking quite extraordinary effo4rts in amending a very large number of important provisions in the laws to make sure they are, first of all, updated with our current practices, and more importantly perhaps, the country continues to be more welcoming of people to stay in the country for the longer term, and two, to perhaps invite and welcome other tourists and new people into the U.A.E..  It is groundbreaking and I think in the interim it’s very refreshing and encouraging for a lot of people who live here to at least know that now formal legislative efforts are being put in place to illegalize or criminalize some of these activities and to provide protection for those who might find themselves on the receiving end.  That is truly important and groundbreaking, although what is in the books is one thing, but will people actually do anything about trying to enforce these laws and rules is something else.  Because let’s face it, if somebody is harassed in the street, will they really want to file a criminal case?  In some circumstances, yes, but just knowing that the law is what it is now, and that those options are available to them, I personally think will have quite a fundamental paradigm shift on the society in positive ways.

Tim Elliot:  Let’s hope so.  That’s Article 359 and Article 360 as well, the area of the law that covers harassment, in particular harassment of women in the Emirates.  That’s another episode of Lawgical.  As always, our legal expect was Ludmila Yamalova, the Managing Partner here at Yamalova & Plewka.  Thank you once again for your time and your expertise.   

Ludmila Yamalova:  wonderful chatting with you, Tim.

Tim Elliot:  If you have a legal question you would like answered in a future episode of Lawgical, or if you’d like a consultation with a U.A.E. experienced qualified legal professional, it’s very simple to get in touch.  Just head to LYLawyers.com and click Contact.