Trial opens for Jordanian journalist held in UAE over ‘insulting’ Facebook post

Published February 3rd, 2017 - 06:00 GMT
Jordanians held a vigil for Tayseer al-Najjar outside the UAE embassy in Amman. (Twitter)
Jordanians held a vigil for Tayseer al-Najjar outside the UAE embassy in Amman. (Twitter)
Tayseer al-Najjar, a Jordanian journalist held incommunicado in the United Arab Emirates since December 2015, is reportedly due to attend a hearing at the State Security Court in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. He is thought to be currently held in Al-Wathba desert prison.

The hearing could be a sign the Emirati government is caving to pressure from Jordan, where Najjar’s case has become a major issue in recent months, prompting protests and appeals by his family, colleagues and MPs for the government there to intervene on his behalf. He has been detained without charge so far, in a case deemed by expert to be one of enforced disappearance in the oil-rich Gulf nation.

The New Arab has learned that Najjar had appeared in court on January 18, but the session was adjourned to February 1 due to the absence of a defence lawyer. 

During the session, however, the judge reportedly charged Najjar with the crime of “insulting the Emirati state” in a Facebook post he wrote in the summer of 2014, criticising Abu Dhabi for its position during the Israeli assault on Gaza.

According to rights groups, the Facebook post in question was published before he moved to the UAE in April 2015 to work as a culture reporter for a local newspaper, raising questions about the applicability of draconian UAE laws in his case. Published in 2014, the post was reportedly critical of Gulf countries and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, over Israel’s war on Gaza.

Official Emirati media have kept mum on Najjar’s case, but the charge is likely to provoke angry reactions.

Najjar’s wife, artist Majida Hourani, told The New Arab her husband was shocked by the charge. She said he told the judge: “You would not cut off the fingers of a skilled pianist,” in reference to his writing, citing a book he co-wrote praising life in the UAE published this year.

Public Outrage

On Sunday, the Jordanian Embassy in Abu Dhabi issued a statement, the first of its kind, saying it was following up the case of Jordanian national Tayseer al-Najjar.

Members of the embassy, according to the statement, had met with the journalist several times. In the most recent meeting he had asked for his clothes to be changed and for embassy representatives to attend his trial.

On December 3, UAE authorities had blocked Najjar at Abu Dhabi International Airport, where he intended to board a flight to Jordan to visit his wife and children, his wife told Human Rights Watch in February last year. 

She said Najjar, a journalist for more than 15 years, had been working in the UAE since April 2015, when he became a culture reporter for the UAE-based newspaper Dar. He was later summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department and detained, although his whereabouts were not disclosed.

His case has since triggered a public outcry in Jordan, with pressure from MPs and the public for the government to intervene. The government in Jordan, which is close to the Emirati government, has reportedly refrained from appointing a defence lawyer to assist him, and a minister earlier said his case was a matter of Emirati ‘national security’.

Enforced disappearance

According to human rights experts, the manner in which Najjar has been detained and treated amounts to a case of enforced disappearance and abduction.

“Najjar’s case bears all the marks of the UAE’s shameful practice of forced disappearances and incommunicado detentions,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director, at the time.

Multiple cases of enforced disappearances have been documented in the UAE, most notably the case of Emirati academic, Nasser bin Ghaith, whom authorities forcibly disappeared on August 18, 2015.

UAE authorities have not reported the reason he was taken, the nature of the charges against him, nor have they allowed anyone to get in touch with him.

Bin Ghaith's case prompted Amnesty International to voice its concerns last year.

"We fear that Dr Nasser bin Ghaith is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of the country's state security body," the human rights group said.

Copyright @ 2022 The New Arab.

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