Trials of a Jordanian poet

Following the imprisonment of an Egyptian poet for “insulting” President Mubarak (reported here in July), another Arab poet – this time in Jordan – is preparing himself for jail.

Islam Samhan was arrested last October and charged him with insulting the prophets because of Quranic references in his book of love poetry. In June he was sentenced to a year in jail and fined $14,000. Although he is currently free and trying to appeal, he is not optimistic of success and expects to start his sentence when the courts come back from recess later this month.

The trouble began, according to Samhan, with a Jordanian website where “a man without any knowledge of either poetry or literature defined my poems as ‘an obscene insult to God’.” The Muslim Brotherhood later issued a press release which Samhan interpreted as a death threat and Jordan’s grand mufti – the kingdom’s highest religious authority – then joined in, calling him an enemy of religion.

Samhan, who is 28 and a journalist with al-Arab al-Yawmnewspaper, told The National he believes the sentence “is politically motivated in order to please the department of iftaa [fatwas], the Muslim Brotherhood and their followers rather than a judicial decision.”

He told the paper that as a result of the case people shun him, his colleagues avoid talking to him and he continues to receive threats on his mobile phone:

“I couldn’t help but weep the other day when my sisters implied that their husbands do not want to see me at iftar. People are avoiding me. I have become an outcast,” he said. “If anybody harms me, he may have a legal protection because the grand mufti, who is the highest religious authority, called me an apostate.”

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 2 September 2009.