A police officer is seen at a checkpoint in Amman, Jordan, on March 25, 2020. Police recently arrested cartoonist Emad Hajjaj. (Reuters/Muhammad Hamed)

Jordanian security forces arrest cartoonist Emad Hajjaj over criticism of Israel-UAE deal

New York, August 27, 2020 — Jordanian authorities should immediately release cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, drop all charges against him, and let him work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, a police patrol arrested Hajjaj, a cartoonist for the Qatari-funded news website Al-Araby al-Jadeed, on the Jordan Valley road while the cartoonist was on his way to Amman, the capital, and transferred him to the police headquarters in downtown Amman, according to a statement by his employer, a statement by the Amman-based press freedom group the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists, and the center’s director, Nidal Mansour, who communicated with CPJ via email.

The arrest was prompted by a cartoon Hajjaj published yesterday, which criticized the recent deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and mocked Emirati Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed, according to those statements and Al-Jazeera.

Today, authorities brought Hajjaj to the public prosecutor’s office, where he was charged with “disturbing relations with a sister country” under the country’s counter-terrorism law, according to Mansour. If convicted, Hajjaj could face a minimum of 10 years hard labor, according to 2014 amendments to the counter-terrorism law.

The public prosecutor’s office ordered Hajjaj to be detained for 14 days and transferred him to Salt Prison, northwest of Amman, Mansour said.

“Journalists and cartoonists like Emad Hajjaj are entitled to express their views freely on the Israel-United Arab Emirates deal, which affects the lives of millions of people across the region,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative, Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Jordanian authorities should immediately release Hajjaj, drop all charges against him, and allow him to provide political commentary without fear of imprisonment.”

Hajjaj has recently published several cartoons critical of the UAE-Israel deal on Al-Araby al-Jadeed’s website and his Twitter account, where he frequently posts his work and has more than 130 thousand followers.

Hajjaj was previously sued and was subject to harassment and death threats in November 2017 over a cartoon he published about a land deal between Israeli settlers and the Greek Orthodox Church, as CPJ documented at the time.

CPJ emailed the Jordanian Justice Ministry for comment, but did not immediately receive any response.