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Jordan arrests, harasses hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters, HRW says

February 6, 2024 at 4:19 pm

Thousands of people holding Palestinian flags and banners stage a demonstration in support of Gaza, on November 10, 2023 in Amman, Jordan [Laith Al-jnaidi – Anadolu Agency]

Jordanian authorities have arrested and harassed scores of Jordanians who participated in pro-Palestine protests across the country or engaged in online advocacy since October 2023, bringing charges against some of them under a new, widely criticised cybercrimes law, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.

Since 7 October, thousands of Jordanians have participated in peaceful demonstrations nationwide in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Jordanian lawyers representing detainees told HRW that the authorities have most likely arrested hundreds for their involvement in the protests or online advocacy. HRW documented cases in which authorities brought charges against four activists under the new cybercrimes law, including Anas Al-Jamal, a prominent activist, and Ayman Sandouka, secretary of a political party.

“Jordanian authorities are trampling the right to free expression and assembly in an effort to tamp down Gaza-related activism,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East director at HRW. “Recent government assurances that the new cybercrimes law would not be used to infringe on rights crumbled in less than two months as the authorities deployed it against Jordanians to stifle their activism.”

Parliament swiftly passed the repressive cybercrimes law in August, ignoring criticism and bypassing consultation with experts or civil society. The law further undermines free speech, threatens internet users’ right to anonymity, and introduces a new authority to control social media, risking a surge in censorship.

Authorities detained Anas Al-Jamal at his roadside stall in the northern city of Irbid on 5 November. A family member said that after they inquired, an official told them he had been detained and transferred to Amman for investigation under the cybercrimes law for three October tweets, one of which revolved around police blocking protests in the Jordan valley.

The family member said that a court convicted Al-Jamal after a brief trial, during which his lawyers were prevented from providing an adequate defence, sentencing him to three months in jail and a 5,000 Jordanian dinars (about $7,000) fine based on article 24 of the cybercrimes law, which criminalises publishing without authorisation names or pictures of law enforcement officials online, or new information about them that may offend or harm. Al-Jamal, his family’s breadwinner, was released on 13 January after a crowd-funding effort covered the fine, but he still faces a travel ban.

Sandouka has been held since 18 December for Facebook posts, including one mocking the government’s claim that the official stance and public opinion on Israel’s war in Gaza are aligned, his lawyer said. He was detained for a month pending investigation by the public prosecutor, then released.

However, the state security prosecutor then summoned him on charges of “incitement to oppose the political regime,” a terrorism provision under the penal code. On 24 January, despite acquitting him on two charges, a separate Jordanian court convicted him of intentionally disparaging state authorities and sentenced him to three months in jail and a 5,000 Jordan dinars fine (about $7,000). Sandouka is serving his three-month sentence while in detention, pending the state security case.

Lawyers told HRW that hundreds of people are sent before judges, with many charges eventually dropped. Lawyers and activists also said that in many cases, even after the public prosecutor or a judge ordered a detainee released, Interior Ministry authorities immediately re-apprehended or kept people in custody using abusive administrative detention procedures, coercing detainees to sign pledges not to protest or incite to protest under threat of a 50,000 Jordanian dinars fine (about $70,000).

Despite evidence of mass arrests stemming from the protests, Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh said on 26 November that “there has been no arrest of any person for practicing the right to peaceful expression.” He added: “Those detained and who remain under arrest do not exceed 24 people because they assaulted policemen, destroyed property, or tried to produce gatherings that have no relation to Gaza.”

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