Perfect Assassination of Jordanian Writer?

29 SEP 2016

A perfect assassination starts with demonizing the victim and ends with condemnation of the assassin.

On 25 September 2016, the prominent Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar, 56, was fatally shot ahead of a trial before the courthouse in Jordan’s capital Amman. He was accused of sharing a caricature deemed offensive to Islam on his Facebook page. Hattar was an outspoken leftist, secular writer and a self-described Christian atheist, known for his controversial views on issues regarding refugees, his support of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his hostility to movements of political Islam.

According to the Jordanian state news agency Petra, an armed man fired three shots at the writer at close range in front of the courthouse ahead of a hearing.

The long-bearded shooter who was wearing a long grey robe characteristic of ultra-conservative Muslims was identified as the 49-year-old Jordanian imam Riad Ismail Ahmed Abdullah, from one of Amman’s poor neighbourhoods – Hashmi. The perpetrator, Abdullah, was referred to the state security court on terrorism-related charges and might face the death penalty.

But why was Hattar arrested in the first place?

Contempt of Religion

Hatter was arrested on 13 August 2016 on charges of insulting Islam upon sharing a cartoon on his Facebook page. The writer removed the post thereafter and wrote that the cartoon “mocks terrorists and their concept of God and heaven. It does not infringe God’s divinity in any way.”

This is not the first time Hattar’s life was endangered, but it was the last. Hattar’s family said “the writer was given no protection by authorities” despite of him receiving hundreds of death threats recently. Although Hattar’s family filed 200 names of people who had threatened the writer (including that of the assassin) and handed them over to the governor of Amman Khaled Abu Zeid, protection was denied because there was, as estimated by the governor, “no real threat.”

Upon sharing that cartoon on social media, a storm of hysteria blew against Hattar, led by lawyers and media campaigns, mainly by Al-Jazeera and well-known individuals such as the Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Mulqi, who ordered an investigation into the issue, which resulted in multiple charges against Hattar.

Hattar was charged with “inciting sectarian strife” and publishing material that offends “other people’s religious feelings” under articles 150 and 278 of Jordan’s penal code. In addition to these accusations, Hattar has become the anti-Islam devil, who purposely causes offense to Jordanian Muslims.

On 13 August when Hattar was arrested, Al-Jazeera reported that:

“Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement in response to Hattar’s comments that called on the government to take strong measures against those who publish seditious material that undermined national unity.”

Noting that freedom of expression is protected for all but within the constitutional and legal limitations, Mulqi said a few weeks ago that he will not tolerate crossing the red lines of the sacred, and that the laws will be firmly applied on all those who commit such intrusive practices in the religious and conservative Jordanian society which always defends the sanctity of religion.

Hattar denied the charges and commented before closing his account on Facebook:

“Those who were offended by the drawing are of two types: Good-intentioned people, who didn’t understand that the intended irony of the cartoon mocks how terrorist Daesh militants and the Muslim brotherhood envision God and heaven. I respect and appreciate those people.”

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