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Journalist received death threats and imprisoned after publishing book of poems

(ANHRI/IFEX) - The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounces the campaign undertaken by the Jordanian Mufti and Muslim Brotherhood against journalist and poet Islam Samhan following the release of his first work of poetry, "Elegant as a Shadow," in March 2008. The Mufti has accused Samhan of apostasy because of the content of some of his poetry. Both the Mufti and the Muslim Brotherhood claim that some of the lines insult Islam. ANHRI also condemns the order issued by Jordan's public prosecutor to imprison Samhan for fifteen days while an investigation is under way.

Samhan, a twenty-seven-year-old journalist working for the Jordanian newspaper "Alarab Alyawm", published his first collection of poetry over six months ago, but to his surprise, a campaign to recall the book from stores and to have him imprisoned started in September. Then Jordan's Mufti accused Samhan of "apostasy and being an enemy of religion." Based on the Mufti's statement, publishing circles and the Muslim Brotherhood demanded that the collection be recalled and that Samhan be punished. Because of this campaign, Jordan's public prosecutor was forced to imprison Samhan for fifteen days while the case was being investigated. This happened on 19 September.

Said Hamdy Al-Assiouti, a consultant for the legal aid unit for freedom of expression at ANHRI, said of the case, "Aesthetic scripts should not be exposed to the interpretations of religious clerics. The only field that is qualified to evaluate aesthetic scripts is that of aesthetic critique. The interference of religious clerics in literature and cultural affairs would leave the doors wide open for the return of the Inquisition and threatens freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and artistic creation."

Although Samhan denied that he had intended to insult Islam, he received death threats as a result of the Mufti's statement and the campaign led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

ANHRI confirmed, "Even if religious clerics perceive an insult to Islam, the specialist view of the aesthetic critique should be taken into account. Investigation of Samhan and his imprisonment is not the proper way to deal with this issue. Therefore, we appeal to Jordan's Mufti to retract his statement, to reopen the dialogue and to apply the value of tolerance in tackling this issue, especially since Samhan confirmed that he did not mean to insult Islam."

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