Awaiting trial for more than a year, detained Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar finally appeared before the State Security Court in Abu Dhabi, UAE on February 1. His trial has been adjourned to 15 February, at the request of his lawyer.
Al-Najjar stands accused of insulting the Emirati state, over Facebook posts he published in 2014, while living in Jordan. In those posts, Najjar reportedly criticized the Emirati position on the 2014 Israeli war in Gaza.
Under article 29 of the 2012 UAE Cybercrime Law, publishing statements, information, news or rumors “with intent to make sarcasm or damage the reputation, prestige or stature” of the state, its institutions and leaders is a crime punishable by temporary imprisonment and a fine. What is troubling about Najjar's case is not only that he is being prosecuted for merely expressing his opinions, which is not uncommon in the UAE, but also for statements he made before he moved to the country to work as a culture reporter for a local newspaper.
A writer, journalist and a member of the Jordanian Press Association (JPA), al-Najjar used to work for the culture section of the daily newspaper al-Dostour in Jordan. In April 2015, he moved to Abu Dhabi where he started working as a culture reporter for al-Dar newspaper, affiliated with the government-owned center Aljewa for Culture and Media.
UAE authorities detained Najjar in December 2015, after banning him from boarding a flight to Jordan at the Abu Dhabi International Airport to visit his family. He was held incommunicado for nearly two months, and remained in pre-trial detention for over a year.
Enforced disappearances of human rights activists and those who simply express themselves online are a common practice in the UAE. Those detained for their views are often subjected to lengthy and unfair trials. In another similar case, academic Nasser Bin Ghaith, who has been in jail since August 2015 for tweets critical of Egypt, was held incommunicado for nine months. His trial was postponed several times.
Tayseer Najjar's pre-trial detention may have come to end but his trial has only just begun, and no one knows when a sentence in his case will be issued, let alone when he will be reunited with his family and loved ones.