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Lebanon: Popular comedian detained after sketch on economic conditions

Rights groups have called for the immediate release of the comedian after he skewered Lebanon's financial crisis
Nour Hajjar was detained for jokes he made about Lebanon's economic conditions forcing people to take on delivery jobs (Screengrab/Instagram)

Popular Lebanese comedian Nour Hajjar was detained on 25 August after posting a sketch online where he talks about the deteriorating economic conditions in the country.

According to local media platform Megaphone News, the comedian spoke about Lebanese army personnel being forced to take on multiple side jobs such as delivery services in order to make enough money.

Hajjar was summoned for interrogation at the military police barracks in Rihaniye, without being given a clear reason behind the summons, according to reports. 

Local media reports also state that the comedian's lawyer, Diala Shehadeh, was taken out of the military police station and asked to wait outside until a decision was made. 

The video of the sketch was posted online to a platform called awk.word, where comedians share their work. 

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Investigators have asked the co-founder of the platform, Dany Abou Jaoude, to join Hajjar's lawyers at the military police headquarters on Monday.

According to a spokesperson from the awk.word platform, military personnel also visited the venue where awk.word stages its shows in the Karantina area.

In the video, Hajjar jokes about how many people in the army work as delivery service drivers.

"Have you noticed that all [delivery company Toters' couriers] are in the army?" he asks.

"Can you imagine if Israel strikes us and the whole army is at Toters? We'll see 30 mopeds arrive at the border. One rocket and we'll be splashing Israel with honey-mustard sauce."

Abou Jaoude told the Lebanese news site L'Orient Today that he was surprised by the detention.

"This is the first time someone has been summoned because of a sketch broadcast on awk.word's networks," he said. 

"Our aim is not to harm the Lebanese army, but to talk about the general situation in the country. Humour is used to shed light on society's problems."

Many have voiced their concerns over the comedian’s arrest and criticised the economic conditions in the country. The official currency was devalued by 90 percent on February 1 to 15,000 pounds against the US dollar, still well adrift of the then black market rate of 57,000 per dollar, now down to around 90,000 to the dollar.

Aya Majzoub, the deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa for Amnesty criticised the decision to detain Hajjar. 

"No one should be detained for peacefully expressing their opinion, no matter how offensive or insulting others find that opinion," she posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Amnesty calls on Lebanon's authorities to release Nour immediately."

One social media user wrote: "Sure that Nour Hajjar's joke was insensitive and in bad taste, but it's interesting that everyone attacked the sarcastic criticism of the situation rather than seriously talking about why do these men have to work in delivery to provide for their families in this joke of a country."

Lebanon's economic collapse ranks among the world's worst financial crises since the mid-19th century, according to the World Bank.

The currency plunge has been devastating for those on fixed incomes, triggering price hikes on imported fuel, food, medicine and other basic goods.

The complete meltdown of Lebanon's economy is widely blamed on corruption and mismanagement by the country's hereditary political elite.

In late 2021, the United Nations estimated that nearly half of Lebanon's population have been pushed into poverty since 2019.

Lebanese Army troops and members of the security forces are receiving salary support in US dollars from the United States and Qatar for the first time.

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