February 23, 2006
His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein
C/o His Excellency Karim Tawfiq KawarEmbassy of Jordan
3504 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Via Facsimile: 202-966-3110
The Committee to Protect Journalists wishes to express its grave concern about the criminal prosecution of Jihad Momani, former editor-in-chief of the weekly Shihan, and Hashem al-Khalidi, editor-in-chief of the weekly Al-Mehwar. The two editors face lengthy prison terms if convicted under Jordan’s penal code for publishing controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Momani and Khalidi are charged with violating Article 278 of the penal code, which prohibits publishing “anything in print or writing, or a picture or drawing or symbol that leads to an insult of the religious feelings of other persons or their religious faith.” If convicted, both face up to three months of imprisonment. Amman Public Prosecutor Saber Rawashdeh is considering charging the two journalists under article 273 of the penal code, which prohibits “insulting the heavenly religions.” If charged and found guilty, they would face up to three years in prison.
The journalists also face charges of violating Articles 5 and 7 of the Press and Publication Law. Article 5 prohibits “publishing anything that conflicts with the … values of the Arab and Islamic nation,” while Article 7 prohibits “publishing anything that may instigate violence, prejudice, bigotry or of anything which invites racism, sectarianism or provincialism.” Penalties include fines.
Momani and Khalidi were first detained on February 4 and spent the night at the Criminal Investigation Directorate. They appeared before the Amman Magistrate Court the same day, pleaded not guilty, and were released on bail. They were ordered arrested again on February 6, pending investigation into the second set of charges. Both journalists checked in to al-Markaz al-Arabi hospital complaining of chest pain and remained in hospital and under arrest until February 12.
Momani appeared in court on Wednesday and presented his defense regarding the charge under Article 278. Khalidi is due to appear in court again on February 28. Both editors said their intention was to show that the cartoons were foolish and to calm the anger that has swept the Muslim world.
CPJ recognizes the deep sensitivities surrounding this issue, but no solution can be found in silencing newspapers or jailing journalists. The fact that people may take offense at publication of certain information or ideas should not be used as a basis for restricting the work of the press. We call on your Excellency to ensure Jihad Momani and Hashem al-Khalidi are spared any jail time and that all charges against them be immediately dropped.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.