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Jordan: Woman given prison sentence for saying 'my father is better than the king'

Jordanian social media has erupted in support of 34-year-old Athar al-Dabbas, who has been accused of 'prolonging her tongue' by insulting King Abdullah II
Dabbas' sentence comes at a rocky time for Jordan, as economic difficulties, the Covid-19 pandemic and internal rifts within the royal family create unrest within the country (AFP)

In a continuation of turbulent times for Jordan, a one-year prison sentence issued to a woman for “prolonging the tongue” against King Abdullah II has sparked a widespread backlash on social media.

According to the Facebook page Amman City, which publishes updates on the Jordanian capital, Athar al-Dabbas, 34, who works for an electricity company, said “my father is better than the king” during an argument over car parking.

During the dispute, the complainant, Amal Hussein, a journalist, said: “His majesty is above everything and no one is above him. Your father is below him.” 

Dabbas, whose father is deceased, was angered by the comment, prompting her reply: “Who spoke about the king? For me, my father is better than the king and the whole world.”

Such comments were considered by the North Amman Magistrates' Penal Court as “prolonging the tongue” on the country’s king - an Arabic term that means using improper language.

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The complainant pressed charges against Dabbas. 

The phrase "my father is better than the king" has been turned into an Arabic hashtag, which was the top trending hashtag in Jordan on Tuesday, with scores of social media users angered at the decision by Jordan’s judiciary.

Some social media users focused on the issue of free speech in the country.

One person tweeted: “Jordan is a place of sorrow… you’re not allowed to express even love unless it’s for the regime.”

While others saw no fault in Dabbas’ comments, noting that anyone would regard their own father as above the king.

Translation: My father is better than the whole world, including the king, the prince, and the minister, and any person who doesn’t see his father as better [than the king] there’s something wrong with his mind and I do not think his thinking is sound.

Another user tweeted: “Is it possible that we have reached a point where a case is made against a citizen because she said my father is better than the king? Who among us does not see that his father is the best person in the world?”

One user took a screenshot of the top trending hashtags in Jordan, expressing relief for Jordan’s newfound acknowledgement of such issues. 

Translation: The Jordanian people are waking up from deep lethargy. 

Dabbas’ sentence resulted from Jordan's penal code, article 195, which criminalises the act of insulting the king, an offence punishable with prison sentences from one to three years.

The matter comes after a turbulent few weeks for Jordan.

Economic difficulties, paired with the Covid-19 pandemic, have caused widespread unrest in Jordan. Internal rifts within the country's royal family have propelled issues further. 

An alleged coup plot by Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, a son of the late King Hussein, rocked the country earlier this month.

In a video sent by the prince to the BBC, he echoed widespread discontent with a clampdown on free speech, saying: "No one is able to speak or express an opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed and threatened.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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