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Jordanian artist held over Israel-UAE deal cartoon freed amid pressure from rights groups

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)
Prominent Jordanian cartoonist Emad al-Hajjaj

Jordanian authorities have released prominent cartoonist Emad al-Hajjaj who was arrested for publishing a cartoon satirizing the normalization agreement between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel.

"The decision to release Hajjaj came after the state security court prosecutor decided to change the accusation against him to slander and libel, and his case has been sent back to the Amman state prosecutor," an unnamed judicial source told AFP.

On August 26, Jordanian authorities arrested Hajjaj after he posted a cartoon to his website and social media, which shows Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan holding a dove with the Israeli flag painted on it, spitting on the face of the UAE de facto ruler, who is also known as MBZ.

The cartoon referred to recent reports that Israel had urged the United States not to sell F-35 stealth combat aircraft to the UAE despite the recent normalization deal between the Tel Aviv regime and the Persian Gulf country.

The 53-year-old cartoonist was initially charged with “disturbing [Jordan’s] relations with a foreign state” which carried a sentence of up to five years in jail, if found guilty.

The State Security Court, a military tribunal which deals with terrorism-related cases, decided to keep Hajjaj in detention for 14 days pending an investigation.

But now he will face between six months and two years for "slander and libel", if convicted.

The head of Jordan’s journalists' union, Rakan Saaydeh, confirmed Hajjaj’s release and the new charges against him on Sunday.

"He will now appear before the Amman prosecution," not the State Security Court, Saaydeh said.

It was not clear when Hajjaj’s trial would begin.

The release came following pressure from international rights groups on Jordanian authorities to free and drop abusive charges against the renowned cartoonist.

Hajjaj's arrest also sparked condemnation from social media users and activists online, who criticized Jordan's cybercrime laws.

Human Rights Watch has underlined that Jordanian authorities should work to remove overly broad articles from the country’s Penal Code, Electronic Crimes Law, and counterterrorism law that are frequently used to unduly restrict Jordanians’ right to freedom of expression.

Under the agreement between Israel and the UAE, the Tel Aviv regime has purportedly agreed to "temporarily" suspend applying its own rule to further areas in the occupied West Bank and the strategic Jordan Valley that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged to annex.

While the Emirati officials have described the Tel Aviv deal as a means to stave off the planned annexation, Israeli leaders have lined up to reject MBZ’s bluff that Netanyahu's annexation plans were off the table.

Netanyahu has said that annexation is not off the table, but has simply been delayed.

A senior Israeli source also said US President Donald Trump’s administration had requested to temporarily suspend the announcement of annexations "to first implement the historic peace agreement with the UAE.”

All Palestinian factions have unanimously condemned the UAE-Israel deal, describing it as a stab in the back of the oppressed nation.

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