Why a Jordanian Writer Was Killed in Amman

The prominent secular activist shared a controversial cartoon mocking the Islamic State on Facebook.

Protesters hold up photos of Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar outside the Jordanian Prime Ministry in Amman, Jordan. 
Protesters hold up photos of Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar outside the Jordanian Prime Ministry in Amman, Jordan.  (AP)

NEWS BRIEF Demonstrations broke out this week in Amman, Jordan, as hundreds of protesters called on the government to resign over its failure to prevent the killing of Nahed Hattar, a prominent Jordanian writer, Agence France-Presse reports.

“The people want the fall of the government … No security, they killed Nahed in Amman,” protesters chanted Monday.

Hattar, a secular activist from the country’s Christian minority, was standing outside the Jordan’s Palace of Justice Sunday in the country’s capital, where he awaited trial for sharing a cartoon on social media last month deemed by some to be anti-Islamic, a crime punishable under Jordan’s anti-blasphemy laws. As he entered the court house, a 49-year-old man identified by local media sources as Riad Abdullah, a former imam, shot Hattar three times. Security sources told the Jordanian Times the gunman confessed after the shooting, and said he targeted Hattar for posting the controversial caricature.

The controversy started last month when Hattar posted a satirical cartoon titled “God of Daesh,” a term in Arabic used to describe the Islamic State, which views it as derogatory. The caricature depicts a bearded men in heaven lying in bed with two women as he orders God to bring him a glass of wine and some cashews, as though he were instructing a servant. Hatter’s relatives said the writer posted the cartoon to mock ISIS’s distorted religious views of what awaited them in the afterlife and that he had no intention of insulting Islam, which strictly prohibits depictions of God or the Prophet Mohammed.

After receiving several angry responses, Hattar deleted the post. Two days after sharing it, Hattar was arrested for insulting Islam and inciting sectarian strife.

The Jordanian government condemned the killing as a “heinous crime,” charging the gunman with premeditated murder, committing a deadly terrorist attack, and possession of an unlicensed weapon, according to the Associated Press. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Hattar’s family, however, blamed the government for failing to prevent the writer’s death, and called on Hani al-Malki, the Jordanian prime minister, and Salama Hammad, the interior minister, to step down.

“Many fanatics wrote on social media calling for his killing and lynching, and the government did nothing against them,” Hattar’s family said in a statement.

The government also issued a gag order Monday, barring Jordanian news outlets from publishing stories about the writer, including on social media, in order to, “protect the secrecy of the investigation.”

Amnesty International issued a statement Monday condemning the attack as “an alarming message about the state of freedom of expression in Jordan today,” and called on the government to commit to protecting individuals’ freedom of expression, regardless of the subject matter. Freedom of expression has long been restricted in Jordan, whose laws enable the government to restrict media’s internet access and block unfavorable converge.

Hattar’s death is the latest in a number of violent incidents in Jordan, a U.S. ally which has long been regarded as one of the more stable countries in an increasingly unstable region. Last year, a Jordanian policeman killed five people at the country’s international police training center near Amman. In June, a car bomb was detonated near a refugee camp and military post in the northeast part of the country, killing six.