Famed Jordanian satirist sentenced to year in prison over Facebook post
Famed Jordanian satirist Ahmad Hassan al-Zoubi announced on Wednesday that a Jordanian court had sentenced him to a year in prison over a Facebook post, provoking outrage from Jordanian civil society.
The court accused him of provoking "sectarian strife" via a Facebook post which criticised the state's response to widespread protests over fuel prices in late 2022, which led to the killing of a police officer in southern Jordan.
The sentencing of al-Zoubi shocked Jordanian civil society, quickly issuing statements condemning what it portrayed as a clampdown on freedom of expression.
"This is a dangerous approach that seeks to prohibit what is permissible and reduce freedom of speech to the lowest limits," the National Committee for Defending Freedoms said in a statement on Thursday.
Jordan has recently come under scrutiny for its proposed cybercrime law, which critics have said could severely endanger freedom of speech and digital liberties within the country.
The law would, among other things, potentially criminalise using VPNs, "character assassination," and immoral behaviour online.
'Declining' media freedoms
Nidal Mansour, a founder of the Center for the Defense of the Freedom of Journalists, said the prison sentence against al-Zoubi was "concerning."
"The judiciary is supposed to be a protector of freedom of expression and the media. Media cases should be civil, not criminal," Mansour told The New Arab.
On Monday, another Jordanian journalist, Heba Abu Taha, was arrested and detained overnight for a case raised against her three years prior based on an online post she made. She was released and is now appealing the case.
He further added that in the past, prison sentences for journalists were either replaced by monetary fines or overturned by higher courts.
"We feel that there is a decline in the state of media freedom, and that is not compatible with the current rhetoric about political reform in the country," Mansour said.
Jordan's King Abdullah II set about "modernising" the country's political system in late 2021 to make it more democratic.
The modernisation process mainly included changes to the country's electoral laws and new constitutional amendments that granted the king more power.
Despite public rhetoric of increasing political expression, rights groups have documented increasing repression from Jordanian authorities since 2021.
In September 2022, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Jordanian authorities "use vague and abusive laws that criminalise speech, association and assembly," as well as "harassment" of members of civil society.
A criminal charge for Facebook comments
The court decision against al-Zoubi is considered final unless his lawyers are able to obtain a written appeal to the Minister of Justice to present the case to the Cassation Court.
"If the file is presented to the Court of Cassation, it shall examine the contested procedure and judgement based on the reasons mentioned in the appeal. If it accepts, it will overturn or the judgement or annul the contested procedure," Alaa Hani al-Hiyari, a member of the National Forum to Defend Freedom and one of 300 members of the defence committee set up for the case, told TNA.
Al-Hiyari said that he did not believe the Facebook post that al-Zoubi was convicted upon "constituted a crime in any way" and protested that the court held al-Zoubi responsible for comments made by others on his post.
At the time, al-Zoubi had hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook.
"It is the opinion of the court that post has led to incitement of sectarian strife through the comments … Under current laws, he is not responsible for comments made by others," al-Hiyari said.