Jordan detains cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, refers him to notorious Security Court over 'offending Arab country'

Jordan detains cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, refers him to notorious Security Court over 'offending Arab country'
Journalists are protesting the arrest of cartoonist Emad Hajjaj after he was referred to Jordan's State Security Court for prosecution on charges of 'offending an Arab country'
3 min read
26 August, 2020
Hajjaj was detained by Jordanian authorities on Wednesday [Twitter]
Amman's Attorney General referred editorial cartoonist Emad Hajjaj to the notorious State Security Court on Thursday, in a move that prompted further outrage in the country following the artist's shock arrest on Wednesday.

The SSC - whose judges are appointed by the prime minister - has jurisdiction over crimes including drugs, explosives, weapons, espionage and high treason, however it has increasingly been used to try peaceful protesters and government critics.

Hajjaj, whose work frequently features on The New Arab’s Arabic sister platform, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, was arrested on charges related to Jordan's "cybercrime" law, including publishing cartoons offensive to an Arab country.

A group of Hajjaj's supporters gathered outside the Palace of Justice in the Jordanian capital on Thursday, demanding the artist's immediate release. A social media solidarity campaign has also gained traction in the editorial cartoon community.

Arriving at the Palace on Thursday, a masked Hajjaj was pictured waving to supporters before being pulled away by security forces.

The arrest prompted leading journalists and rights activists online to throw their weight behind Hajjaj and defend freedom of speech.

The head of the Jordanian Journalists Syndicate, Rakan Al-Saidah, said the organisation was following the case closely.

Nidal Mansour, the CEO of the Centre for the Protection and Freedom of Journalists on Wednesday confirmed he had contacted the Minister of State for Media Affairs Amjad Al-Adaileh to urge his swift release. Unconfirmed reports suggest his hearing before the SSC will be on Sunday, whereupon it will be decided whether his detention would be extended.

Hajjaj has gained popularity in Arabic media for his cartoons and caricatures, many of which are critical of prominent figures and governments across the region.

The deluge of posts in support of Hajjaj made his name became the top trending hashtag in Jordan on Wednesday.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor tweeted in condemndation of the arrest, saying "Jordan’s continued restrictions of the right to freedom of opinion and expression represent a blow to civil freedoms in the country!"

The group also posted a cartoon of Hajjaj behind bar that was also being circulated in the social media storm.

Veteran Palestinian writer Yasser al-Zaatreh tweeted in praise of Hajjaj's prominence as a cartoonist across the Arab world.

"His arrest is inconsistent with freedom of publication and expression. We stand in solidarity with him, and we demand his release," said al-Zaatreh.

CNN correspondent Jomana Karadsheh Scott tweeted that Hajjaj is Jordan's "most famous political cartoonist," and condemned the country's "shrinking space for freedom of expression."

The country's infamous 2015 cybercrimes law has widely criticised by rights groups, who say it is a pretext to crack down on any individual whoh criticises the government.

Amendments added to the law in 2018 also made the distribution of articles considered slanderous punishable with a prison sentence.

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