Jordan police make arrests over ‘social media hate’

Those arrested were accused of posting videos and comments on social media “promoting hate” days after a prominent Jordanian writer was shot dead.

Jordanians light candles for Nahed Hattar during a vigil at the site where he was killed on September 26, 2016. Khalil Mazraawi/AFP
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AMMAN // Jordan’s police arrested several people on Tuesday accused of circulating videos and posts on social media “promoting hate” days after a prominent Jordanian writer was shot dead.

Nahed Hattar, 56, an outspoken leftist and secular writer from a Christian family was killed on Sunday as he arrived at court to face charges for reposting on Facebook a cartoon deemed offensive to Islam.

Authorities are concerned his death would be exploited to sow discord in a country that is trying to avoid the violence that has engulfed the region.

The minister of justice Bassam Talhouni warned on Tuesday that those who misused social media to incite or spread hate speech would be prosecuted.

He told government news agency Petra that offenders would be referred to special courts where “deterrent legal action [would be taken] against them”, particularly after a media gag order was issued by the state security court over the murder of Hattar.

Mr Talhouni also said some acts of incitement could treated as terrorism offences.

The exact number of those arrested was not disclosed, but they included a relative of the shooter Riyad Ismaeel Abdullah. The family member created a Facebook page on social media called: “Yes to free the killer of Hattar”.

Police said several people who circulated such posts and videos were outside the country.

Jordanian authorities have been trying hard to reign in extremist ideology and have cracked down hard on extremists. But police described Abdullah, 49, as a lone wolf.

According to the police, Abdullah – who works as an electrical engineer at the ministry of education – planned his crime and bought a gun after Hattar shared the cartoon on August 13.

When Abdullah found out about the court session that Hattar was scheduled to attend, he waited for him in front of the court of justice and shot the writer several times before attempting to escape, a police report said.

A team of senior police officers searched Abdullah’s house, car and electronic devices but did not find any evidence that proved he had accomplices.

“He confessed to the crime and he carried out on his own and he did not inform anyone about his plans. It is an isolated crime,” the statement said.

Abdullah will be detained for two weeks pending further investigation. He has been charged with crimes including premeditated murder, possessing a weapon illegally, and will face terrorism charges at the state security court.