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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Nour Hajjar’s Case: When Humor Becomes “Illegal”

Tuesday , 29 August 2023

In a dangerous escalation against freedom of expression in Lebanon, comedian Nour Hajjar was arrested for a few hours on Tuesday by order of Judge Ghassan Oueidat, following two claims against him by the military and Dar Al-Fatwa. He was then released in the evening.

Nour Hajjar is a comedian at the “Awk.word” comedy club who, like so many others, has made jokes about the dreadful economic situation that the Lebanese are facing to this day. One of his jokes, however, backlashed against him when it was flagged by the judiciary.

On Tuesday, Nour Hajjar was summoned for questioning by military police over a joke in which he discussed his mother’s behavior on religious occasions. He was then detained before being released hours later.

Everything started on Friday, August 25, when military police detained and interrogated Hajjar for nine hours, over a joke published several months ago on the comedy platform, where he tackled the economic difficulties confronting the Lebanese Army officers.

Hajjar’s detention was illegal since his attorney, Diala Shehadeh, was pressured to leave the interrogation room under the false pretense that the interrogation had been completed. Later, Awk.word’s managers were summoned and appeared before the military police on Monday, August 28.

The campaign has since expanded.

A decontextualized joke that dated from five years ago, in which Hajjar discusses his mother’s behavior on religious occasions, was widely circulated on social platforms. Prosecutor General Judge Ghassan Oueidat summoned Hajjar to that effect after Dar Al-Fatwa had submitted a claim against the comedian before the public prosecution at the Court of Cassation. In this claim, charges such as “disturbing the peace between elements of the nation,” “stirring strife,” and “endangering civil peace” were mentioned.

In a twisted turn of events, after the military police summoned Nour Hajjar to sign a residence document in the wake of the interrogation, they transferred him from the station in Rihaniyye to the Criminal Investigation Department at the Palace of Justice without informing his lawyer, who was waiting for him outside the barracks.

Criminal Investigations later informed Shehadeh that “Hajjar was arrested upon an order of Judge Ghassan Oueidat and in coordination with military police.”

Shehadeh, who was expecting to see her client walk out, was surprised to learn about the transfer. When she reached out to the officer in charge, he assured her that Hajjar had left the station on foot, but security guards nearby denied seeing him go out. Hajjar was arrested for a few hours and then released.

Jad Shahrour, spokesperson at the Samir Kassir Foundation, told This is Beirut that “Nour Hajjar was supposed to sign a residence permit today at the military police and return home. However, his lawyer discovered, with no official or indirect notification, that he had been taken to the Public Prosecutor’s office at the Palace of Justice in Beirut.”

“Ghassan Oueidat summoned him as a result of the image distributed by Dar Al-Fatwa on social platforms, which showed Hajjar joking at condolences about people’s behavior during mourning,” Shahrour added. “Naturally, the scene, when viewed in its entirety and not taken out of context on social media, reveals that there is no criticism of the Quran or Islam, but rather a criticism of how [Hajjar’s] family behaved specifically during condolences. However, as the incident went viral and was taken out of context, some individuals began explaining how the situation actually unfolded, and it turned into a hate speech campaign that escalated and reached the judiciary,” he said.

Shahrour emphasized that “apprehending Hajjar without notification and the knowledge of his lawyer is illegal, especially considering that Nour did not refuse to attend the questioning and was cooperative.”

It is an artist’s job to criticize the political scene and its abnormalities, and attacking a comedian for making jokes will lead to repressing freedom of expression. In a country where criminals run wild and corrupt people rule the country, freedom of expression is tailored “à la carte,” and justice runs thin. One becomes a “traitor” if one doesn’t abide “by the rules.”

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