‘The fact that Nahed Hattar was facing prosecution and a possible prison sentence for sharing a controversial cartoon is itself a blatant assault on freedom of expression’ - Philip Luther
The shooting to death of a prominent journalist outside a court in Amman yesterday is an alarming attack on freedom of expression, said Amnesty International.
Nahed Hattar was in court to face charges of “offending religion” and “inflaming religious feelings” under the country’s strict blasphemy laws, after he shared a satirical cartoon deemed to be offensive to Islam.
Hattar’s family had warned that the journalist had received a number of death threats since his arrest in August, yet despite their requests for protection for his day in court it appears none was provided. Hattar’s lawyer had also raised fears of possible demonstrations and riots outside the courthouse on the day of the trial.
Immediately after his killing a number of his critics took to social media, calling him an “infidel” and seeking to “justify” his murder.
Hattar had been arrested on 13 August, two days after he posted a satirical cartoon portraying a decadent scene in the afterlife purportedly featuring a member of the Islamic State armed group. He deleted the post a day after it was shared, saying he did not wish to offend Muslims but was still arrested the following day. He was held at Marka detention centre in Amman, denied bail three times until he was finally released on bail on 8 September.
The Attorney General had also issued a media ban against reporting on the case.
Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director Philip Luther said:
“This deplorable murder of a journalist in broad daylight sends an alarming message about the state of freedom of expression in Jordan today.
“By using strict blasphemy laws to prosecute a person for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, the Jordanian authorities are fuelling a climate in which violent threats against people whose views are deemed offensive by others are allowed to flourish.
“The fact that Nahed Hattar was facing prosecution and a possible prison sentence for sharing a controversial cartoon is itself a blatant assault on freedom of expression.”
Clampdown on journalists
Jordan’s government routinely restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly under laws that criminalise peaceful expression. Since 2015 dozens of journalists and activists have been arrested and detained under legal provisions which criminalise defamation of religion, the monarchy and other institutions. Some critics - including journalists, pro-reformists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood - have been arrested and tried under the country’s anti-terrorism law, which allows for prosecution for harming Jordan’s relations with “friendly” states. In just one example, Professor Eyad Qunaibi served a one-year prison sentence, handed to him by Jordan’s State Security Court last year, for an apparently peaceful Facebook post in which he criticised the Jordanian government’s relations with Israel and its treatment of religious Jordanians. He was convicted under charges of “undermining the political regime … or inciting opposition to it”.