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HRW urges release of Jordanian journalist jailed in UAE

Najjar was sentenced to three years in prison over Facebook comments [Facebook]

Date of publication: 18 March, 2017

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Human Right Watch urged the immediate release of a Jordanian journalist jailed in the UAE over Facebook comments deemed insulting to the Gulf state.
Human Right Watch is urging Emirati authorities to release a Jordanian journalist who has been sentenced to three years in prison over Facebook comments deemed insulting to the UAE.

"Jailing a journalist on spurious charges does far more to 'insult' the UAE and its symbols than anything Tayseer al-Najjar ever wrote," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"The UAE's president should immediately vacate this senseless sentence and allow al-Najjar to return to his wife and family in Jordan."

On Wednesday, Tayseer al-Najjar was handed a sentence of three years in prison and fined 500,000 dirhams ($136,130) for "insulting symbols of the state" on social media.

The Emirati state news agency WAM said his social media accounts would be shut down and his equipment confiscated by authorities as part of his sentence.

He also faces deportation after having served his time in jail, it said.

Najjar was detained in December 2015 and charged with violating the UAE's cybercrime law over Facebook comments in which he criticised the UAE and other countries over the 2014 Gaza war.

Article 29 of the cybercrime law criminalises the publication online of information "with intent to make sarcasm or damage the reputation, prestige or stature of the State or... any of its symbols".

"There's no chance at a fair trial when vague charges are designed specifically to limit free speech and harshly punish peaceful criticism," Stork said.

The Jordan Press Association, which had appointed a lawyer for Najjar, plans to appeal the verdict.

"We respect the UAE's judicial system ... but we truly believed he would be found innocent," Tareq Momani, head of the association, told AFP on Wednesday.

"We are now waiting to see the result of the appeal. We are following the case through our lawyer and we hope that Najjar will be found not guilty," he said.

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