Jordanian journalist and poet Tayseer al-Najjar has died after his health conditions deteriorated as he suffered from effects of torture and mistreatment while serving prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The 46-year-old intellectual, who had been jailed between 2016 and 2019 in the UAE due to his online criticism of the Abu Dhabi regime’s human rights record, its role in the devastating Israeli military onslaught on the Gaza Strip in 2014 as well as the Israeli and Egyptian military occupation in and around the impoverished Palestinian enclave, died on Thursday night.
Najjar was arrested at Abu Dhabi International Airport on December 13, 2015, while preparing to travel to the Jordanian capital city of Amman. He was held in a secret detention center for over a year.
Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar arrived in Amman on Tuesday after being freed by the United Arab Emirates. He had spent three years in prison over Facebook comments deemed insulting to the UAE under the Gulf nation's draconian cybercrime laws.https://t.co/1XA7NNNexc— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) February 12, 2019
In March 2017, the UAE's Supreme Court prosecuted Najjar for what it described as breaching a state law against “information technology crimes.”
He was sentenced to three years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 500,000 dirhams (US$136,000) for “insulting state symbols.”
Najjar was due to be released in December 2018, but his detention was extended as his family could not pay the fine imposed by the UAE court.
His wife, Majida al-Hourani, finally succeeded to raise the funds through a donation campaign, and Emirati authorities released Najjar on February 12, 2019.
According to his wife, Najjar developed several illnesses while held at the notorious al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi.
He suffered from regular migraines, had lost hearing in one ear and was grappling with other health problems.
Family sources also confirmed that Najjar was experiencing severe depression since his release.
The news comes as a UAE court sentenced a Jordanian resident to 10 years in prison last October for criticizing the Amman government.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement released earlier this month, urged Emirati authorities to immediately release Ahmed Etoum, saying he was convicted solely for his “peaceful criticism of the Jordanian royal family and government.”
Etoum, a 46 year-old father of two, has lived in Abu Dhabi for about five years with his family where he worked as a school teacher.
He often used Facebook to voice his opinions – to his just more than 4,000 followers – on matters in his home country.
HRW said UAE authorities have long used broadly worded laws to limit lawful speech in violation of the international standards.
The New York-based organization added they have carried out a “sustained assault” on freedom of expression and association since 2011, noting that UAE residents who have been outspoken about human rights are at “serious risk of arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture.”
“UAE authorities have long clamped down on public criticism of the UAE authorities and policies, and have apparently extended this repression to critics of other countries as well,” Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said.
“Regional cooperation to root out and silence independent voices and criticism seems to be the only meaningful Arab unity these governments are capable of,” he added.
Moreover, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, said the UAE is now “making it clear” to the majority of its workforce that they will be “convicted and jailed if they dare to express their critical opinions about anything, anywhere.”
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