Shooting of Christian writer exposes sectarian concerns in Jordan
Shooting of Christian writer exposes sectarian concernsOn 25 September, a former Muslim preacher shot and killed prominent Christian writer Nahed Hattar in the Abdali district of central Amman. The shooting has triggered widespread domestic and international criticism, with protests over the killing held in Amman on 26 September. Furthermore, the shooting and the subsequent reaction threatens to act as a catalyst for sectarian tension between the majority Muslim population and the minority Christian community, which enjoys political and economic influence.
The background to the shooting is highly inflammatory. Hattar was arrested in August for publishing a controversial Islamic cartoon on social media depicting Prophet Mohammed in a compromising position. He was subsequently charged with contempt of religion and inflaming religious tension and later bailed. Hattar was attending his first court hearing following his arrest at the Palace of Justice when he was shot. The gunman, a Jordanian national and former Iman identified as Riad Abdullah, later surrendered to police. Officials believe the individual was acting alone. Abdullah has been remanded in custody for 15 days and is expected to stand trial on murder charges.
The shooting, while a significant security incident in a country that has a reputation for tolerance and peace in a restive region, is also raising concerns regarding freedom of expression. While a controversial figure in Jordan, Hattar was also seen as the illustrative example of religious tolerance and liberalism. The human rights group, Amnesty International, has, along with civil society organisations, condemned the killing, demanding that Jordon removes the blasphemy laws under which Hattar was charged, arguing that the laws are adding to a perception of a more conservative – and strict - religious approach. Moreover, there is wider anxiety that the government failed to adequately protect Hattar. Relatives and associates of Hattar, who protested on 26 September, claim that they had reported numerous death threats against Hattar to the authorities prior to his assassination including some purportedly made by Abdullah. Protesters have called for Prime Minister Hani al-Malki and Interior Minister Salama Hammad to resign over their handling of the Hattar situation, with further pro-Hattar rallies anticipated in Amman.