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The Middle Finger Emoji Could Land You in Jail in the UAE

Using middle finger emojis and “insulting words” on apps can result in jail or deportation.
Image: Emojipedia

If you're planning a holiday in Dubai this summer—or any other part of the United Arab Emirates—you might want to avoid swearing while using your phone.

Under a newly passed Cyber Crime Law, UAE natives could face fines up to $68,000 (AED250,000) for swearing or insulting someone through messaging apps, social media and email. Disobeying the law could land locals in jail, while expatriates and holiday-goers could face deportation.


This came to light when the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi ordered a retrial of a man convicted of swearing at a colleague over WhatsApp after the $817 (AED3,000) imposed fine was deemed too lenient. Prosecutors appealed the verdict, demanding the court increase the fine up to $68,000 or face jail.

The defendant was prosecuted after the claimant presented his mobile phone to prove he had been sent "insulting words" through WhatsApp, although the exact terms were not revealed in court documents, according to UAE's English-language tabloid 7Days.

The case against the man was brought under the legislation introduced last October that made online verbal insult a criminal offence. A date for the new trial has yet to be confirmed.

Last month, authorities in the UAE warned that sending a middle finger emoji would also be punishable under the law.

Police and lawyers issued the warning after it emerged that Microsoft will become the first manufacturer to give users the option to flip the finger when launches its latest operating system this summer.

"Sending a middle finger emoji on a smartphone or even sending a middle finger picture through email can put you in trouble," criminal defense lawyer Abdullah Yousef Al Nasir told UAE's 7Days. "It's an insult in the UAE and the law can punish you with either jail of up to three years or a fine of up to AED500,000 ($136,000)."

Making use of the gesture in person was illegal prior to the new law. In April, three men were arrested for flicking their middle fingers at speed cameras in Dubai. Last year, Irish teacher Conor Hayes was deported for swearing at a policeman and served a one-month prison sentence.

"Some people insult or mock others thinking nobody can prosecute them," Al Nasir told 7Days. "But the UAE has issued a cybercrimes law to punish anyone committing any crime like insulting someone using technology."