Family of murdered writer calls for Jordanian prime minister to resign

Nahed Hattar, an outspoken leftist and secular writer from a Christian family, was shot three times at close range on Sunday as he arrived at court to face charges of offending Islam and insluting religion.

A protester kisses a portrait of murdered writer Nahed Hattar during a demonstration in front of the Jordanian prime minister's office on September 26, 2016. Khalil Mazraawi/AFP
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ABU DHABI // The family of a Jordanian writer who was shot dead outside an Amman courthouse called on the prime minister to resign on Monday.

“We demand that all those whose actions lead to the assassination of the martyr be held accountable,” said Majed Hattar, 51, a brother of murdered Nahed Hattar. He added that the family had so far refused to collect the 56-year-old’s body for burial.

Nahed Hattar, an outspoken leftist and secular writer from a Christian family, was shot three times at close range on Sunday as he arrived at the court of justice to face charges of offending Islam. His killer, who was arrested at the scene, has been identified as Riyad Ismaeel Abdullah, 49. Local media has said he holds extremist views.

On Monday, authorities referred Abdullah to the state security court on terrorism-related charges. A judicial source said he had been remanded for 15 days and faces the death penalty.

Meanwhile, around 300 of Hattar’s relatives rallied in front of the prime minister’s office, chanting slogans against Hani Mulki who was reappointed to the role on Sunday following parliamentary elections.

“Out out Mulki,” they chanted. “Mulki you coward, you betrayed justice.”

Hattar’s family said the writer was given no protection by the authorities despite receiving hundreds of death threats after he shared a cartoon on Facebook that was deemed offensive to Islam.

“We handed over 200 names [of people who had threatened the writer] to the governor [of Amman], including that of the assassin, and demanded protection,” said Khaled Hattar, another of the victim’s brothers.

“But he refused, saying there was ‘no real threat’.”

Relatives also say Hattar’s death could have been prevented if Mr Mulki had not ordered an investigation into the writer’s sharing of the cartoon, which resulted in multiple charges against him, including offending Islam, inciting sectarian strife and racism, and insulting religion.

“The prime minister should have left it to the judiciary,” said Mary Hattar, 58, one of Nahed’s cousins. “He asked for protection but when he was released from prison he was asked to sign a document [stating] that he was responsible for his own safety.”

Human Rights Watch agreed that the charges against Hattar made him a target for “vigilante reprisals”.

“Nahed Hattar’s senseless murder in front of an Amman courthouse comes on the heels of the government’s senseless charges against him over a cartoon he posted to his Facebook page,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the New York-based organisation’s Middle East director.

“Arbitrary prosecutions for defamation of religion stigmatise individuals and make them targets for vigilante reprisals.”

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse