Lebanon comedian Nour Hajjar arrested for economic crisis jokes released

Lebanon comedian Nour Hajjar arrested for economic crisis jokes released
2 min read
30 August, 2023
The detention of Nour Hajjar has caused alarm among human rights groups.
Nour Hajjar has made waves in Lebanon with his comedy [Getty]

Nour Hajjar, one of Lebanon's best-loved comedians, was detained for a joke about hard-up Lebanese soldiers being forced to work as delivery drivers.

Hajjar, known for his satirical humour, was detained in Lebanon on 25 August following complaints of "inciting strife", "attacking religious rites", and "disturbing peace among the elements of the nation".

It relates to a joke he made on stage and recently screened on the awk.word comedy platform and another made about five years ago - but only recently complained about- regarding his mother and Muslim funeral practices.

In one 35-second clip, Hajjar said that due to the economic crisis, Lebanese soldiers have had to work as delivery drivers to supplement their meagre army incomes - so any invasion by Israel would have to be repelled with condiments.

"Have you noticed that all (delivery drivers) are in the army? Can you imagine if Israel strikes us and the whole army is at Toters?" he quipped, referring to the food delivery service.

"We'll see 30 mopeds arrive at the border. One rocket, and we'll be splashing Israel with honey-mustard sauce."

Although Hajjar said he was willing to apologise to anyone offended by the joke, the comedian was detained under confusing circumstances.

He was due to be released on the weekend but remained behind bars until Tuesday evening when he was finally released, following an outcry from local and international rights groups.

Hajjar's lawyer argues that the comedian was illegally detained, and his supporters held a protest outside the Palace of Justice this week.

Despite the good news of Hajjar's eventual release, his friends have warned that the comedian faces a threat of violence from vigilante groups.

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A  newly-formed Tripoli-based Sunni Muslim group named "Soldiers of Al-Fayhaa" allegedly warned in a video that if the state doesn't charge the comedian with blasphemy, they will "cut off [Hajjar's] tongue". 

Rights groups believe the detention and threats against Hajjar represent a new challenge to free speech in Lebanon and have bemoaned the lack of accountability for the country's political elites over an economic crisis, the 2020 Port of Beirut blast, and other disasters.

"Those who caused impoverishment, death and destruction should be in his place, while he and others who criticise the authorities should be free to do so, especially in times of crisis," Sahar Mandour from Amnesty International told AFP.