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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

In Jordan, a researcher's fake claims of torture by Islamists stirs public outcry 

Jordanian security agencies said that Kandil fabricated claims that Islamists inscribed words on his back using sharp knives

A Facebook post from Younis Kandil shows the researcher during a conference
A Facebook post from Younis Kandil shows the researcher during a conference

A polarising public debate over freedom of expression in Jordan has transformed into a general denouncement of fake news, after authorities this week detained a self-styled researcher and religious reformist who they say fabricated claims he was kidnapped and tortured by conservative Islamists over his unorthodox views.

Younis Kandil, the head of Mouminon Without Borders, a so-called “research centre,” that promotes religious reform in Arabic and Islamic societies, sparked public outcry in Jordan last week after videos and images of him in a hospital bed inundated Arabic satellite TV channels and social media networks.

Photos released on social media networks showed Kandil’s back marked with scars and wounds, which he claimed were a result of torture inflicted on him by three masked militants who had kidnapped him from his car in northern Amman last week.

In TV interviews from his hospital bed, a seemingly-fatigued and strained Kandil cast the incident as a hate crime, saying that he was “insulted” and “terrorized," for his views.

Mouminon Without Borders released a statement last Saturday saying that militants burned Kandil’s tongue, broke his fingers, and inscribed the words ‘Muslims Without Borders’ on his back using sharp knives.

It did not identify the perpetrators, but many held the Muslim Brotherhood accountable for the attack, without providing any evidence.

Mouminon Without Borders described the attack as an attempt to silence the self-styled researcher, who had sparked controversy in Jordan last month over a lecture series on religion and Islam that he was planning to hold in the capital.

One of the talks planned for the seminar, titled “A Popular History of the Birth of God,” involved an assessment of transformations in popular imaginings and conceptions of God as both an image and ideological representation. The content of the lecture drew opposition from conservative elements in Jordan, including some members of parliament, who described the talk as a violation of Jordan’s Islamic character.

Jordan’s interior minister responded to the outcry by banning the lecture series which was scheduled for the first week of November. Reports of Kandil’s torture by militants surfaced only days after the interior ministry announced the ban.

Kandil’s claims of abuse, paired with the government's ban, led to a wave of criticism from Jordanian academics, activists and media figures, who decried violations against freedom of speech and implied that the government was indirectly complicit in the attack by supporting the ban on his lecture series.

Jordan’s security agencies opened an investigation into Kandil’s assault and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. But on Thursday, Jordan’s General Security agency announced that Kandil had fabricated the incident along with one of his relatives. It said that it has detained Kandil and his relative ahead of trial.

The announcement stirred an outcry among some members of the Jordanian public, who slammed Kandil and decried what they described as a “conspiracy” concocted by the researcher and other figures in an attempt to sow discord and incite religious strife in the country.

Others accused Kandil of dealing a blow to activists and intellectuals who are fighting for freedom of speech in the kingdom, and who had expressed solidarity with Kandil in defence of these rights.

Mouminoun Without Borders released a statement on Friday, saying that Kandil’s actions do not reflect on the work of the organization, which it said is not represented by a single figure, but is rather a platform for a number of researchers. The group said it respected the course of investigations and stressed the importance of holding perpetrators accountable, whomever they may be.