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Emirati court jails Jordanian journo for blasting UAE over Gaza war

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar (file photo)

A court in Abu Dhabi has handed down a prison sentence of three years to a Jordanian journalist over a Facebook post critical of the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, over the 2014 Israeli offensive against the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The UAE state news agency, WAM, reported on Wednesday that the Jordanian was given the jail term and fined 500,000 dirhams ($136,130) for "insulting symbols of the state" on social media.

The agency further reported that the defendant’s social media accounts would be closed while he faces deportation after having served his jail term.

Meanwhile, the Jordan Press Association (JPA) identified the journalist as Tayseer al-Najjar, who was detained in December 2015 over a 2014 Facebook post, in which he expressed support for the resistance in Gaza Strip and criticized the UAE, Egypt and the Tel Aviv regime for the Israeli war on the Palestinian territory.

“Message to some journalists and writers who do not like the Gazan resistance,” Najjar wrote, adding, “There is no two rights in one case, but the right one is the Gazan resistance and all else is bad - such as Israel, the UAE, [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-] Sisi and other systems that are no longer ashamed of shame itself.”

Tel Aviv has waged three wars on the coastal enclave since 2008, including the 2014 offensive that left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead.

Gaza has also been under an inhumane Israeli siege since 2007. Egypt has contributed to the Israeli blockade by regularly demolishing and flooding Gaza tunnels, which have been used by Palestinians to bring basic needs into the coastal sliver.

The photo taken on July 29, 2014 shows clouds of heavy smoke billowing into the air following an Israeli military strike on Gaza City. (Photo by AFP)

The JPA announced that it planned to appeal Najjar’s verdict and expressed hope that he would be found not guilty.

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

A journalist for more than 15 years, Najjar had been working in the UAE since April 2015 as a culture reporter for the UAE-based al-Dar newspaper.

Najjar’s 2015 arrest sparked condemnations from international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW). Emirati authorities held the journalist incommunicado for nearly two months while his detention was confirmed in February 2016.

Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director, called on the UAE to release the reporter immediately.

“Al-Najjar’s case bears all the marks of the UAE’s shameful practice of forced disappearances and incommunicado detentions,” Stork said in December last year, noting, “There is no justification for throwing a journalist, or anyone else, into prison for expressing an opinion.”

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