A law which allows the Jordanian authorities to detain activists on the basis of “insulting the king” must be repealed, Amnesty International said after 30 to 40 apparently peaceful protesters were detained in Amman.
At least 13 people remain in custody in the wake of the weekend protests against the detention of half a dozen pro-reform activists.
Four activists have been held for nearly a month and are now facing charges of ‘insulting’ the king amid a growing crackdown on freedom of expression.
The protestors are understood to have been arrested when they called for the downfall of the government. Some 40 to 50 officers of the Gendarmerie allegedly beat and kicked them before loading them into a police van.
According to a lawyer who visited them, they were also beaten after arrest, as a result of which, one suffered a broken arm. The lawyer’s request to the State Security Prosecutor that they be referred to a hospital for examination was apparently refused.
"Jordan continues to use a draconian law which effectively criminalizes political dissent as a way to silence political opponents and government critics,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
The detainees apparently face additional charges relating to threatening the stability of the government, illegal assembly, inciting unrest. They face trial before the State Security Court (SSC), a special court which fails to meet international fair trial standards.
"So far as we know, these individuals have not advocated violence or gone beyond the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression and therefore the authorities are effectively violating rights which they have an obligation to protect under international law standards."
According to one source, families of the detained tried to visit them on Tuesday in the Muwaqqar Rehabilitation and Correction Centre and were informed the men were in Basheer Hospital. But when they went to the hospital, they were told their relatives were not there.
They were among some 100 protesting on Saturday, calling for the release of six members of the Free Tafileh Movement, which calls for constitutional and economic reforms plus enhanced political freedom for Jordanians, who were arrested last month.
The six men - Majdi Qableen, Sa’id Oran, Yasser Sabayla, Fadi al-Abadeen, Ibrahim al-Abadeen and Qaysar Muhaisen - face a maximum three-year sentence if convicted. They may also be charged in connection with organizing unlawful gatherings.
They are held without formal charge, apparently pending investigations. If charged, they face trial by the SSC.
"These six men are prisoners of conscience held solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. They are being punished for their pro-reform views and peaceful activities," said Ann Harrison.
The arrest of the six men followed several months of protests in the city of Tafileh, where residents are objecting to rising unemployment and economic hardship.
According to information received by Amnesty International, at least three of the six men were beaten by security forces during initial interrogations.
"The authorities should investigate this as well as reports that the security forces beat at least some protesters during and after Saturday’s apparently peaceful demonstration.”
Any such investigations should be independent and impartial, with anyone found responsible for abuses brought to justice in accordance with international fair trial standards.
Restrictions on the right to criticize the authorities or state institutions persist in Jordan. Journalists, political activists and others who express legitimate criticism continue to face arrest and prosecution.
In 2010, the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a state party, reiterated its recommendation that Jordan consider abolishing the SSC.