The UAE has introduced severe penalties for people caught swearing online, including jail sentences and fines of up to 250,000 dirham (about $67,500).
One man recently convicted of sending “insulting words” to a colleague via the instant messaging service is waiting to learn if he will be the first to pay such a heavy price.
He was originally handed a 3,000 dirham ($816.74) fine, but the Federal Supreme Court, based in Abu Dhabi, has overturned that sentence for being too lenient.
The case has now been referred to the Court of Appeal and a date for the new hearing has yet to be confirmed.
Criminal defence lawyer Abdullah Yousef Al Nasir, told 7DAYS that according to cyber-crime law, anyone who sends an offensive emoji or image online could also be prosecuted.
He said: “Sending a middle finger emoji on a smartphone or even sending a middle finger picture through email can put you in trouble.
“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 Dhs500,000.” (About $136k)
He added that if a foreigner is convicted they will likely be deported.
However, Al Nasir said police would have to receive a complaint from the person the image was sent to in order to act, meaning one sent between friends in jest would not automatically land someone in trouble.
But he said users need to realise how seriously such an insult could be taken.
Al Nasir said: “With the development of technology, people have started insulting others on social media using services like WhatsApp or BlackBerry messenger.
“Some people insult or mock others thinking nobody can prosecute them. But the UAE has issued a cyber-crimes law to punish anyone committing any crime like insulting someone using technology.”
A senior Dubai Police official urged smartphone users to think before posting a message or image that could be offensive.
He said: “Be careful of what you send on smartphones or emails.
“It’s up to the recipient to open a criminal case if they feel offended by a message.
“It’s an insult in the UAE and the law can punish someone committing such act.”