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Jordan: Two TV executives arrested for airing virus complaints

April 13, 2020 at 3:29 pm

Roya TV’s news director, Mohammad al-Khalidi (R) and the general manager and owner, Fares Sayegh (L) [Twitter]

The Jordanian military has arrested two television executives, the owner of Roya TV and its news director after the channel aired a segment featuring labourers complaining about their inability to work due to the government-mandated coronavirus lockdown.

Roya TV released a statement on Friday confirming Thursday’s arrest of the channel’s news director, Mohammad al-Khalidi, and the general manager and owner, Fares Sayegh.

The statement said, “the public prosecution at the state security court has ordered the detention of Sayegh and al-Khalidi for 14 days over the airing of a news segment.”

It added that “Roya Channel supports the Jordanian government efforts throughout all the crises as part of the Jordanian media that works professionally and patriotically,” and respects “the rule of law… and the fair Jordanian judiciary.”

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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), however, condemned the move, saying the “Jordanian authorities should be working with media outlets to inform citizens about the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19, not jailing members of the press who expose public concerns about the virus and the government response to it.”

Sherif Mansour, the CPJ coordinator in the region called for the immediate release of al-Khalidi and Sayegh, and the resumption of “their work without interference from the authorities.”

Roya’s report, which aired on Wednesday, showed a group of people in the capital, Amman, saying they were forced to break curfew and beg after the government’s coronavirus lockdown left them without any income.

“I need to feed my family, what should I do now? Should I resort to stealing or selling drugs? Should we start begging on the streets”, one man said, according to Al Jazeera.

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The Jordanian government imposed a state of emergency in March, and an immediate nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease, with anyone caught flouting the lockdown order set to face up to a year in prison.

Approximately 85 per cent of Jordan’s economy is driven by small and medium-sized businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of workers, all which have been left without income for the duration of the lockdown.

Nevertheless, the government has not introduced a special scheme of social benefits for those suffering from the closures.

One woman featured in Roya’s segment, said she had applied to the government for social benefits but had not heard back, leaving her family with no other option but to beg in the streets.

Despite the desperate situation for thousands of Jordanians, Health Minister Saad al-Jaber said the lockdown would remain until the end of April, with plans in place for “gradual opening in some sectors” after the middle of the month.

To date, Jordan has reported 389 confirmed cases, and seven deaths.