A Jordanian cartoonist has removed a cartoon from Facebook after advice that he would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution. We seek assurances to the contrary from the kingdom’s government.
Rafat Alkhateeb is an Amman-based UX designer and cartoonist who publishes cartoons via Al-Hudood (Joran), Al-Mayadeen (Lebanon) and Cartoon Movement (The Netherlands).
On May 31st he posted on Facebook a cartoon of Prime Minister Dr Omar Razzaz in a pose and situation redolent of that of the arresting police officer responsible for George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25th, currently the focus of widespread anti-racism protests in the United States of America and elsewhere.
The result was an influx of messages over Facebook and Twitter, the majority of them condemning the cartoon and a significant number stating (wrongly) that Alkhateeb is a foreign infiltrator and calling for his criminal prosecution. Regardless of whether one supports or opposes a particular government or leader there can be no excuse for such sustained bullying, especially on the basis of race or nationality.
According to information received by CRNI and confirmed in an interview given to the Sawaleif blog, a representative of The Center For Defending Freedom Of Journalists advised Alkhateeb to remove the cartoon as remedial action against possible criminal prosecution, and he did so on June 1st.
In their most recent global reports Human Rights Watch described multiple instances where Jordanian activists were prosecuted for Facebook posts and notes actions that have arisen over “speech deemed critical of the king, foreign countries, government officials and institutions…” Reporters Sans Frontières ranked The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan 128th on its World Press Freedom Index, saying media workers there must very carefully observe “red lines”.
However it is worth noting that this ranking is significantly higher than all the nation’s immediate neighbours and a statement made by the Jordanian Cartoonists’ Association reflects this status, commending “the constitution, preserved by law, and guaranteed by His Majesty” that protects freedom of expression under Article 15:
“The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion. Every Jordanian shall be free to express his opinion by speech, in writing, or by means of photographic representation and other forms of expression, provided that such does not violate the law.“
Furthermore a source close to the Prime Minister was quoted in Ammon News yesterday, saying he “will not sue” over the cartoon. We trust that is indeed the case and that His Majesty King Abdullah’s officers of government can be relied upon to uphold the spirit and letter of the constitution.
And to that effect we have today made representations to the kingdom of Jordan’s embassy in Washington DC.