Is Jordan Using Its COVID-19 Defense Laws to Silence Critics?

Published June 4th, 2020 - 07:11 GMT
Is Jordan Using Its COVID-19 Defense Laws to Silence Critics?
Alkhateeb explained that his decision to remove his cartoon from social media networks came after several warning messages that it might result in legal or criminal repercussions. (Twitter: @KhlefatQusai)

Having to remove a cartoon, in which he criticized recent Jordanian decisions regarding workers' rights amid COVID-19, cartoonist Rafat Alkhateeb received a lot of online support from users and organizations, who expressed their fear of government's exploitation of defense laws enforced to contain the Coronavirus outbreak.

Translation: "Dear friends, due to the controversy over my recent cartoon and the ambiguity and misunderstanding it involved, it has been deleted to avoid legal consequences. This post doesn't mean that I am justifying the situation or explaining the artwork. Many of my followers know my work and realize that accusations against it are invalid. I humbly ask my friends to remove the cartoon for their safety and mine. Thanks. Love."

In the cartoon, inspired by the killing of African American George Floyd by a police officer in the US state of Minnesota, Alkhateeb depicted Jordan's Prime Minister Omar Razzaz kneeling on a poor citizen's neck, hinting at increasing financial burdens on Jordan's impoverished population following the pandemic. 

Alkhateeb's cartoon came in response to Jordan's latest defense law (6) giving business owners various options to minimize their financial losses including firing employees or cutting their salaries down by 50%.

Jordan's first defense law was issued by mid-March imposing several movement restrictions on citizens, resulting in businesses closures for about two months.

Suffering from a 19% unemployment rate prior to the Coronavirus crisis, Jordanians poverty rate is expected to see a sharp rise in the coming months, especially as many expats working in the GCC countries have been laid off and forced to return to the country, where resources have often been quite scarce. 

In a Facebook post, Alkhateeb explained that his decision to remove his cartoon from social media networks came after several warning messages that it might result in legal or criminal repercussions, as per Jordan's controversial cyber-crime laws.

Reacting to Alkhateeb's decision to take the cartoon down, social media users re-posted the cartoon and expressed their solidarity with him, arguing that "defense laws that were issued to contain a health crisis should be stopped once they threaten citizens' rights to freedom of expression."

Translation: "A statement issued by the Jordanian Cartoonists Association: The Jordanian Cartoonists Association supports fellow artist Raafat Al-Khatib and stresses his legitimate right to freedom of expression as a cartoonist within the framework of the available and recognized public freedoms, and we stand against bullying, exclusion, and marginalization campaigns that are targeting him. Drawing meaningful caricatures is a right guaranteed by the constitution, preserved by law, and guaranteed by His Majesty the King..."

Additionally, the Jordanian Cartoonists Association released a statement in which they expressed their support of Alkhateeb and stressing "the need to allow creative artists to express themselves without being bullied or threatened."

Translation: "I'm saddened and outraged reading news articles about how our PM Omar Razzaz "isn't going to sue the cartoonist" as if he's generously pardoning him for a mistake the latter made."

Consequently, local press reported that the Prime Minister of Jordan "doesn't intend to sue Rafat Alkhateeb following his cartoon," which angered some social media commentators, even more, saying that "it shouldn't sound as though he's forgiven him over the cartoon."


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