BEIRUT — Comedian Nour Hajjar was released Tuesday evening after the public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat ordered Hajjar's arrest earlier in the day, L'Orient-Le Jour's correspondent on the scene reported.
The comedian was questioned for 11 hours by the military police on Friday after performing a sketch about the army, according ti Hajjar's lawyer.
Hajjar had initially gone to the military police headquarters on Tuesday morning to sign a bail bond issued after his Friday interrogation but was then taken to the Beirut courthouse by military police, without the presence of his lawyer.
Judge Oueidat reportedly questioned him there before ordering his arrest.
Taken into custody ‘illegally’
“Nour Hajjar went to the military police in Rihaniyeh in Baabda to sign a bond, as he had been asked to do on Friday after his interrogation. They told his lawyer, Diala Chehade, to wait outside,” Shahrour explained.
“More than an hour passed before the lawyer learned that his client was taken to be questioned by Judge Oueidat at the courthouse. They [took him into custody] illegally!” said Shahrour.
On Tuesday morning, the highest Sunni authority in Lebanon, Dar al-Fatwa, filed a request for judicial information on Nour Hajjar from the general prosecutor's office near the Court of Cassation, confirmed a Dar al-Fatwa spokesperson.
“Now it is in the hands of justice and we are waiting for the next step,” explained the spokesperson.
Hajjar is also the subject of a second request filed by a religious judge, Sheikh Wael Chbaro. “The cause dates back to a joke Hajjar made five years ago," in which he made fun of his parents' behavior on religious occasions, Shahrour explained to L’Orient-Le Jour.
Hajjar's sketch about the army appeared on the platform awk.word comedy. Platform founder Dany Abou Jaoude was asked to appear before military police in Rihanieh on Monday in relation to Hajjar's sketch. Abou Jaoude was then released on bail by Judge Mona Hankir. Contacted by our L'Orient Today, Hankir was not immediately available for comment.
The army joke video no longer appears on awk.word comedy's Instagram account.
Freedom of expression 'in sharp decline'
On Tuesday, approximately 30 people gathered in front of the Palace of Justice in a show of solidarity with Hajjar, Jad Shahrour, head of media at the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, who was at the scene, told L'Orient-Le Jour.
Present at the protest, comedian Shaden Fakih told L'Orient-Le Jour that "freedom of expression is in sharp decline" in Lebanon. "We're heading towards a Ba'athist regime in a country run by Hezbollah. We have to fight not to regress," added Fakih.
Also at the scene, comedian George Mahfouz warned of a "repressive regime and a police state," and accused authorities of seeking to "divert attention in the country and play on the heartstrings of religion."
"Many comedians have come to support Nour because our space for expression is shrinking," said Mahfouz.
Reporting contributed by Zeina Antonios