Moderate" Jordan Threatens Poet Eslam Samhan With Death
Valentina Colombo / Jun 29, 2009


Geert Wilders, the Dutch MP and filmmaker, and Eslam Samhan, a 27 year old poet of the Jordan’s new generation, probably do not know each other but have a common destiny. Both have been sued in Jordan with blasphemy charges. With a main difference: probably almost everybody in the West knows the former, but unfortunately almost nobody knows the latter.

It all started with the publication of a collection of his poems “Light as a Shadow” in March 2008. “On September 24th a friend of mine called me,” Samhan told us, “and urged me to visit the Amman News website in which a man without any knowledge of either poetry or  literature defined my poems as “an obscene insult to God”. Besides this, the man asked the Jordanian authorities to ban my book, and asked the religious authorities to judge my behavior. What really shocked me were Jordanian religious people who immediately monopolized one of the most radical programs to announce their fatwa against me, accusing me of being an apostate and an enemy of Islam”.

Samhan explained why this became so dangerous: “The situation worsened when the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood issued a press release in which they threatened me with death and said that they would be “astonished” if somebody had a “bad reaction” to me. This was a green light to radical Islamists to kill me.”

On October 19th, the poet was arrested and spent four nights in jail on charges of insulting Islam and failing to submit an advance copy of his book to the Press and Publications Department.

Last Sunday, June 21st, the Amman Court of First Instance convicted Samhan on charges of slandering Islam and insulting "religious sentiment," and sentenced him to a one-year prison term plus a 10.000 Jordan dinars fine (about $14,000).  

On June 26th, he sent me a message: “When I went to the Court I was optimistic: I am convinced of my innocence. This is why I am astonished at the sentence that found me guilty. It is a political decision to please Islamic extremists, who are as dangerous as terrorists in Iraq or who kidnap foreigners in Yemen. Islamic extremists are threatening me with punishment and death.”

This could happen even though the Constitution of the Jordanian Kingdom states:

“Article 14: The State shall safeguard the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites in accordance with the customs observed in the Kingdom, unless such is inconsistent with public order or morality.

“Article 15 (i) The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion. Every Jordanian shall be free to express his opinion by speech, in writing, or by means of photographic representation and other forms of expression, provided that such does not violate the law. (ii) Freedom of the press and publications shall be ensured within the limits of the law. (iii) Newspapers shall not be suspended from publication nor shall their permits be revoked except in accordance with the provisions of the law. (iv) In the event of the declaration of martial law or a state of emergency, a limited censorship on newspapers, publications, books and broadcasts in matters affecting public safety and national defense may be imposed by law. (v) Control of the resources of newspaper shall be regulated by law”.

 As a matter of fact articles 14 and 15 seem to provide each Jordanian citizen with freedom of expression, but if we refer to “law”, in this case the Press and Publications Law, Article 37 is very clear: “A. It is prohibited for the printing press to publish the following in any form: i) What disparages the King and the Royal family. […] iv) What contains any contempt or harm to any of the religions and denominations whose freedom is guaranteed under the Constitution. […] vii) Articles or reports containing personal insult to the heads of Arab, Islamic, or friendly states, or the heads and members of diplomatic missions accredited to the Kingdom, provided that the principle of reciprocity is observed”.

Even though Jordan is a country considered “moderate,” it is not new to jihad by court.

Last June 2008, a Jordanian prosecutor charged Wilders with blasphemy and contempt for Muslims for having created the film “Fitna”, defined as anti-Koran; Jordan, through the Dutch embassy in Amman, has ordered him to stand trial there.

Jordanian prosecutor Judge Hassan Abdallat charged Wilders after a legal complaint by a coalition of Jordanian activists and community leaders who, since the Danish cartoon affair, have worked together under the name “The Messenger Unites Us.” Fortunately, Dutch prosecutors declared they would not take action against Wilders as he was just exercising his right to freedom of speech. However, Wilders declared that he was concerned about the Jordanian case against him as it could limit his freedom to travel. He may have been aware of Eslam Samhan’s case -- which is more desperate.

First of all Samhan lives in al-Zarqa, sadly known for both being the place of birth of the militant Islamist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and for being one of the main centers of radical Islam in Jordan. Last year the Jordanian Grand Mufti accused Samhan of blasphemy against “God, the angels and Prophet Muhammad” for allegedly interspersing his works with sentences taken from the Koran. Samhan, married and father of two young children, is in danger of losing his life.

Wilders and Samhan are neither the first ones nor the last. Nine years ago, the Jordanian poet Musa Hawamdeh was charged with apostasy because of a poem he wrote titled “Yusuf,” which Islamists said contradicted the story as it was told in the Koran. His book was banned; even though he was later acquitted on all charges in both the sharia and civil courts, he sentenced in 2003 to three months in prison for violating the Press and Publication law. And in 2006, two Jordanian magazine editors were sentenced to two months in prison for reprinting the Danish cartoons.

The judge who summoned the two magazine editors is the same one who summoned Wilders. Just as in Europe, Islamic extremists are very well organized: they attack the freedom of expression of Muslims and non-Muslims.

Yet nobody is paying attention to this new kind of jihadi terrorism that aims to cut tongues instead of throats.

What gives us some hope are Samhan’s words: “If they put me in jail, during the year there I shall write a new collection of poems about my love for life, I shall teach the other prisoners to love life. I shall be strong and brave until I fight my last battle against darkness, psychological terrorism and backwardness.”

In his collection of poems we can find these meaningful verses: “Only once/ I travelled in metaphors without intent/ and ended up in prison”.

We hope that Samhan will not be put in jail. We hope that all international organizations will raise their voices to help him.

And we also hope that Western governments will ask their Arab counterparts to be true moderates, respecting the freedom and life of all people without hesitation or exception

Disclaimer: The articles published on this site represent the view of their writers.