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Hamas not amused by Haniya cartoon

Fadi Abu Sada- A Gaza court has banned the Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam because of a three months old cartoon that was judged to be ‘defamatory’ to Hamas members of parliament.

BETHLEHEM, Feb. 11, 2008 (MENASSAT) – On February 3, 2008, al-Solh court in Gaza ordered the halting of the publication, printing and distribution of al-Ayyam newspaper starting February 6. It also imposed suspended jail sentences and fines on three staff members of al-Ayyam.

The verdict was a result of a complaint by Hamas members of parliament who took offense at a cartoon published by al-Ayyam three months earlier. The cartoon, drawn by Palestinian cartoonist Bahaa al-Bakhari, shows Prime Minister Ismail Haniya addressing a group of bearded MPs who all have Haniya’s face and are holding up pictures also showing Haniya’s face. In the bottom right corner is the Arabic word “alla-sharaayiah” or “illegal.” It was published on the back page of the November 8 edition of al-Ayyam.

Upon publication, a group of Hamas MPs who considered the cartoon to be defamatory, filed a complaint against Akram Haniya, al-Ayyam’s editor in chief and an advisor to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, cartoonist Bahaa al-Bakhari, and Sami Qishawi, al-Ayyam’s Gaza office manager.

Last week, the Gaza-based court agreed with the Hamas MPs that the cartoon was defamatory.


In an interview with MENASSAT, Ismail Jaber, attorney general in the dismissed Hamas government, compared the cartoon with the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which had the Muslim world in an uproar in 2006.

“The truth is that if a cartoon criticizes religion it is not covered by freedom of expression”, Jaber said. “In a previous incident, some cartoons depicted the Prophet, which is defamatory to our religion and our Prophet, while they claimed it is freedom of expression. They [al-Ayyam] are imitating them [the Danish cartoonist and newspaper], and they talk about freedom of the press. However, freedom of the press does not show disrespect to religion and religious aspects.”

In the case of al-Ayyam’s cartoon, Jaber said, “it disrespected religion by depicting [the Hamas MPs] as bearded men even though they are normal people, with a specific religion and without beards.”

An aggravating factor was the use of the word “illegal,” implying that Haniya’s government is illegal since it was dismissed by President Abbas last year.

“It is unacceptable to draw bearded men with the word ‘illegal,’” Jaber said. “What is legal then? I want to know.”

The court ruled that the cartoon was defamatory because it violated articles 2 and 3 of the 1936 penal code, as well as article 37 of the Publications Law issued by late President Yasser Arafat in 1995.

Al-Ayyam’s managing editor, Abdul Nasser an-Najjar, told MENASSAT from Ramallah that “the Hamas MPs should know that a cartoon is not a photograph. It doesn’t depict reality but offers a critical point of view.”

‘All this fuss’

The point of view, in this case, was that “if a session of the legislative council was held in Gaza, to which only Hamas MPs were invited, it would not be a legitimate session of the legislative council but only of Hamas.”

“We were surprised with the court decision about an incident that happened so long ago,” an-Najjar said. “We had hoped that Hamas would have withdrawn its complaint. Tis is a dangerous sign and a blow to the Palestinian media, especially since al-Ayyam has always tried and is still trying to cover events in an objective way.”

According to an-Najjar, “the cartoon is not defamatory at all. The cartoonist is an artist, and we cannot put boundaries on art unless it goes against the norms and values of the community or national unity, which is not the case here.”

Cartoonist Bahaa al-Bakhari himself is flabbergasted by the commotion. “The matter is so futile. I’m afraid to show my fellow artists around the world the cartoon that was the reason for my newspaper being banned. It does not warrant all this fuss.”

He also offered that, “Some people forget my identity. Not only am I a Muslim myself, but my ancestors are Sufi and all bearded. I would definitely not criticize my own family or my ancestors.”

He was not even criticizing the Hamas MPs as such, he said, “I was merely expressing my opposition to an idea and a concept. Who gives them the right to say who has the right to criticize and who doesn’t?”

The accused received suspended three-year jail sentences for the first violation, in addition to a $250 fine each for the second violation. Akram Haniya also received a one-month suspended jail sentence and a $1,500 dollars fine for the third violation.