AMMAN, Jordan 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Jordanian authorities to immediately release a cartoonist for drawing a satirical cartoon about a recent normalization deal between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel.

Emad Hajjaj was arrested by Jordanian police on charges of insulting an Arab country.

“Calling a satirical cartoon a terrorism offense only confirms that Jordan intends to muzzle citizens who speak freely,” Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director, said in a statement.

“This arrest sends the message that Jordanian authorities would rather abuse the rights of their own citizens than risk offending a gulf leader’s feelings,” he said.

On Thursday, Hajjaj was referred to the State Security Court on a charge of “disturbing [Jordan’s] relations with a foreign state”.

Activists on social media shared the caricature that mocks UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as Israel refused to allow the UAE to buy F-35 warplanes from the US despite Abu Dhabi’s normalization deal with Tel Aviv.

The UAE cancelled a meeting last week with Israel and the US over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to provide the Gulf state with the US fighters F-35.

On Aug. 13, the UAE and Israel announced a US-brokered agreement to normalize their relations, including opening embassies in each other’s territory.

Palestinian groups, including the Palestinian Authority, have denounced the UAE-Israel deal, saying it does not serve the Palestinian cause and ignores the rights of Palestinians.

*Ahmed Asmar contributed to this report from Ankara

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