Freed Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj hails solidarity campaign

Freed Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj hails solidarity campaign after 'preparing for the worst'
3 min read
03 September, 2020
Emad Hajjaj said his morale was boosted when inmates, some of whom recognised him through his work, informed him of the solidarity campaign.
Emad Hajjaj's drawings have appeared in numerous domestic and pan-Arab publications over decades [TNA]
A Jordanian cartoonist who was being jailed for publishing a cartoon considered offensive to the UAE has commended an outpouring of solidarity by activists, through social media campaigns, as well as support from rights watchdogs, which led to his release.

A sponsor request by the Jordanian Journalists' Syndicate was accepted by the Jordanian authorities, who released Emad Hajjaj on Sunday.

Hajjaj said he was unable to comprehend the "surreal events" in the five day between his arrest and eventual release, in an exclusive interview with the The New Arab’s Arabic-language site.

"I thought constantly about by family and my life. The charges against me, referred to the state security court, were serious. My lawyer wasn't optimistic and told me to prepare for the worst" Hajjaj told The New Arab.

On Thursday, Amman's general prosecutor charged the cartoonist with "carrying out acts and publishing material aimed at undermining relations with a friendly country", a judicial source said.

He was then referred to the state security court, which announced it would keep him in detention for 14 pending investigation. The cartoonist was expected to face five years in prison if found guilty.

The wife of 52-year-old Hajjaj, who visited him during his detention, informed him that he had "support" when she saw him, without elaborating.

Hajjaj, who had no access to any form of communication, was later told by inmates, some of whom knew who he was, that a solidarity campaign for him had begun.

"It really boosted my morale, and I could feel empathy from people I could neither see nor hear", Hajjaj said.

A day before his release, Jordanian activists and their allies across the world launched a "Twitter storm" demanding his immediate release. The hashtag #Freedom4EmadHajjaj was used as part of the pressure campaign.

Human Rights Watch last week also led calls on Jordan's authorities to release Hajjaj.

"Calling a satirical cartoon a terrorism offence only confirms that Jordan intends to muzzle citizens who speak freely," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the New York-based watchdog.

"This arrest sends the message that Jordanian authorities would rather abuse the rights of their own citizens than risk offending a gulf leader's feelings," he added.

Read more: Jordan must release cartoonist arrested over UAE drawing: HRW

The apparently "offensive" cartoon published by Hajjaj to his Facebook page is entitled "Israel asks America not to sell F-35 planes to the Emirates", showing Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan carring a dove emblazoned with the Israeli flag.

The dove spits on the face of the powerful royal, known as MBZ. The spittle which lands on his cheek is covered with the formulation "Spit-35", written in Arabic.

The text refers to Israel's opposition to a sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, which dampened the jubilant mood surrounding the Washington-brokered UAE-Israel normalisation deal.

Jordan is one of two Arab countries to have a full peace treaty with Israel, and enjoys strong relations with other oil-rich Gulf nations.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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