Emad Hajjaj does not make many statements in general, but he resumed publishing his sarcastic cartoons on his social media accounts, and he still criticizes the race to normalization among the Gulf states and Israel, as he puts it.
Since his release, Hajjaj has been choosing his words carefully. The Jordanian authorities finally released him after a detention that lasted for four days, to the backdrop of a cartoon he drew against the Emirati-Israeli normalization.
The news about Hajjaj’s detention was faced by rage on the Jordanian and Arab social media platforms. There was wide objection against his arbitrary detention, suppression of freedoms, and the oppression against the drawings of Emad Hajjaj.
Hajjaj feels disappointed because he was imprisoned for expressing a criticizing opinion. “The whole prison idea was so cruel and had a very negative impact on my mental health. I have never been to a police station,” Hajjaj tells Daraj. “However, what helped alleviate my pain was the solidarity of many people with my cause. The love of people is my wealth.” Hajjaj did not talk much about the details of the case as he said: “I trust the integrity of the judiciary and I am sure it will do justice for me.”
Hajjaj was detained on Wednesday night, the 2nd of September in the Cyber Crimes Department. He was interrogated on the accusation of “disturbing the relations with a foreign country,” according to Article three, Paragraph (B) of the Prevention of Terrorism Law. In the beginning, a decision to detain him for 14 days pending investigation was issued. Then, the Public Prosecutor agreed to a request to release Hajjaj. On the same day, the Public Prosecutor issued his decision that he was not competent to consider this case and referred it to the Public Prosecutor of Amman who had previously issued a similar decision.
However, Hajjaj’s case was not closed. Instead, it opened an extensive debate about freedom of expression, especially in matters of sensitive political issues. The cartoon in question included a drawing that was meant to criticize the normalization between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. According to a well-informed source, the case was not limited to that drawing, as the indictment included two other drawings by Hajjaj in which he had criticized the policies of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Are The United Arab Emirates A Red Line?
This is a question of concern to many Jordanians. In conjunction with the detention of Hajjaj, Prince Ali ibn al-Hussein, brother of King Abdullah, circulated a tweet that included a press article which criticized the Emirati normalization with Israel and under the title “The Emirati-Israeli Agreement … A Major Breach or A Betrayal?” but then he removed it shortly after.
The tweet circulated by the Prince stirred a lot of controversy. It also clearly irritated the UAE, the reason why it was deleted so rapidly. This reveals a noticeable rigor practiced by the Jordanian authority when dealing with matters related to the UAE. This reminds us of the detention of Zaki Bani Arshid, the Deputy General Observer of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2015 and his appearance before the state court which sentenced him to 18 months of imprisonment because of an article where he criticized the UAE for considering the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
This sensitivity about criticizing some countries, especially the UAE, irritated a broad section of the Jordanian society. Hisham al-Bustani, the writer and political analyst, tells “Daraj” that “punishing the Jordanians for criticizing the UAE will deliver a negative message to the Emirati authorities, a message that is offensive to the dignity of the Jordanian citizens, its conclusion is that the Jordanian authorities are ready to punish a Jordanian citizen for the sake of that state and that governor… this is demeaning for the dignity of Jordanians in Jordan and the UAE.”
Al-Bustani believes that “detention of Emad Hajjaj or any other person for criticizing the Emirati normalization indicates the contradiction of the Jordanian official situation which stresses the rejection of Netanyahu’s project in the region, but also raises an important question, what message does Jordan want to convey to the Zionist entity by detaining Hajjaj?”
Jordan recorded an increase in violations in freedom of opinion and expression this year compared to recent years.
Hajjaj was charged with disturbing relations with a foreign country, which is the UAE. This charge is provided for in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Article 3, paragraph (b), which stipulates that: “The following acts are deemed to be prohibited terrorist acts; committing actions that endanger the kingdom or disturb its relations with a foreign country (… ), in addition to being criminalized in Article 118, Paragraph 2 of the Jordanian Penal Code which provides for a punishment of a temporary detention of at least 5 years for whoever commits acts, or publish writings or speeches not sanctioned by the government, as it may put the kingdom at risk of hostile acts or disturb its relations with a foreign country.(…)”
The articles are incompatible with Article 15, Paragraph (1) of the Jordanian Constitution, by which the State guarantees freedom of opinion, and gives every Jordanian the right to express their opinion freely in words, writings, photography and other means of expression, provided that it is expressed within the limits of the law. The two articles violate the international conventions signed by Jordan.
Yahya Shuqair, human rights expert, believes that “Punishing a Jordanian citizen for criticizing a ruler or a person in a foreign country who made a decision that affects the struggle of the Arab and Islamic nation is a violation of Article (128) of the Jordanian constitution, which stipulates that (Laws issued under this constitution to regulate rights and freedoms should not undermine the core of these rights or their fundamentals).
Shuqair also indicated that the charge of disturbing relations with a foreign country was the prerogative of the State Security Court in 2014, but the article was added to the Prevention of Terrorism Act after its amendment. In 2010, the article fell outside the competence of the State Security Court according to a decree of the Court of Cassation which confirmed that the hearing of such cases is the prerogative of the prosecutor of the Criminal Court.
A Threat to Freedom
“Is it reasonable that a journalist or a cartoonist should ask for the permission of the government before writing an article or drawing a cartoon?” asks Shuqair.
The founder of the Center for the Protection and Freedom of Journalists, Nidal Mansour, believes that “Arrest is a punishment and a violation of freedom of expression and opinion.”
Jordan recorded an increase in violations of freedom of opinion and expression this year compared to recent years, as if the Jordanian authorities were using the “Coronavirus” pandemic as a pretext to crack down on journalists and to threaten freedoms, according to the human rights journalist Mohamed Shama.
Shama stresses that what happened with Hajjaj is a flagrant violation, stating that transferring his case to the State Security Court is unprecedented compared to recent years, a dangerous indicator of the use of laws by Jordanian authorities for their own benefit, such as cyber crimes, publication, publishing, and terrorism crimes, and so on.