Prisoners were reported to have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated. Thousands of people were held without charge or trial under a sweeping provision allowing administrative detention. Procedures in trials before the State Security Court (SSC) breached international standards for fair trial. New restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly were approved by the parliament. Women faced discrimination and were inadequately protected against domestic violence. Migrant domestic workers were exploited and abused, and inadequately protected under the law. At least 14 people were sentenced to death but there were no executions.
Counter-terror and security
Two security suspects were released after being held in prolonged detention without trial in the General Intelligence Department in Amman.
- ‘Isam al-‘Utaibi, also known as Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, was freed on 12 March after nearly three years in solitary confinement. In January the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that his detention was arbitrary.
- Samer Helmi al-Barq was released in January, having been detained since October 2003 when he was unlawfully transferred to Jordan by US authorities. Arrested in Pakistan, he had been detained there for 14 days then handed over to the US authorities, who held him in a secret prison until transferring him to Jordan.
Justice system – administrative detention
Thousands of people were held under the Law on Crime Prevention of 1954, which empowers provincial governors to authorize the detention without charge or trial of anyone suspected of committing a crime or “deemed to be a danger to society”. Such detention orders can be imposed for one year and are renewable. In March the government-funded National Centre for Human Rights called for the abolition of the law and noted that in 2007 some 12,178 men and 81 women were detained under the law.
"...women migrant domestic workers faced economic, physical and psychological abuse with little or no protection from the state."
Torture and other ill-treatment
There were new reports of torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners. In October, Human Rights Watch reported that more than half of 110 prisoners it had interviewed during visits to seven prisons said they had been tortured or ill-treated, some citing prison directors. The authorities dismissed the organization’s findings.
- Firas al-‘Utti, Hazim Ziyada and Ibrahim al-‘Ulayan were reported to have died in a fire on 14 April when guards at Muwaqqar Prison forced them to remain in their cell. Two of them had allegedly been tortured by being beaten and suspended from a wall with their hands tied behind their back. The Public Security Department was reported to have held an investigation into the deaths but its outcome was not disclosed and no prosecutions were known to have been initiated.
- Two prison officers were each sentenced to 30 months in prison by a police court in May for beating Firas Zaidan to death in May 2007 in Aqaba Prison. A third prison officer was acquitted.
In February, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture reported that the authorities had failed to implement “effective mechanisms” to prevent torture and other ill-treatment or to ensure prosecution of perpetrators, which he had called for following his visit to Jordan in 2006.
Unfair trials – State Security Court
Procedures in trials before the SSC continued to breach international standards for fair trial. In particular, the court, which has jurisdiction to try cases involving offences against state security, including sedition and armed insurrection, and financial and drugs-related crimes, continued to accept “confessions” allegedly obtained under torture in pre-trial detention as evidence against defendants without adequate investigation.
- In May, the SSC sentenced Nidal Momani, Sattam Zawahra and Tharwat ‘Ali Draz to death and then immediately commuted their sentences to 15 years’ imprisonment after convicting them of planning to attack US President George W. Bush when he visited Jordan in 2006. The defendants denied the charges and alleged that their “confessions” were false and had been obtained under torture.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly
New legislation was proposed that would further restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The Societies Law and the Law on Public Gatherings were passed by the parliament and were awaiting approval by the King. The first would increase government control over NGOs, requiring them to provide their work plans on demand and obtain official approval before receiving funds from abroad. It would also empower the authorities to order their closure even for minor infractions or appoint a state employee as their temporary president. The second law would relax some controls, allowing NGOs to hold general assembly meetings without prior approval, but those planning public gatherings would be required first to obtain the approval of the administrative governor, who would be able to terminate or disperse meetings or rallies by force if they contravened their agreed purpose.
Journalists and others continued to face prosecution for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
- Fayez al-Ajrashi, editor of El-Ekhbariya, a weekly newspaper, was arrested and detained for several days before being charged with “inciting sectarian strife” and “sowing national discord”. The case arose from articles he wrote that criticized the governor of Amman and dealt with corruption in the capital. He was released on bail. He was due to be tried before the SSC; if convicted, he could be sentenced to three years in prison.
Violence and discrimination against women
In January, the Protection from Family Violence Law was approved by the parliament. This makes provision for the reporting of domestic violence, including sexual violence and harassment, and for victim compensation. The new law fails to explicitly criminalize domestic violence or provide adequately for the prosecution of those who perpetrate it.
Temporary amendments to legislation that would give women the right to divorce without their husband’s consent and establish penalties for perpetrators of family killings remained pending before parliament for the seventh year.
During the year at least 16 women were killed in the name of so-called honour. Article 98 of the Penal Code continued to be invoked in defence of men who had killed female relatives. It allows for reduced sentences where the killing is deemed to be committed in a “fit of rage caused by an unlawful or dangerous act on the part of the victim”.
- In March, the Criminal Court imposed a three-month prison sentence on a man who had shot dead his married sister in 2007 because of what he considered her “immoral behaviour”, which included leaving home without her husband’s consent and speaking to other men on her mobile phone.
Tens of women were reportedly administratively detained without charge or trial. Some, including rape victims, women who had become pregnant outside marriage and women accused of extramarital sexual relations or of being prostitutes, were believed to be held to protect them from their family and community members. A government-run shelter for women in need of protection from domestic violence became operational but few women were in the shelter by the end of the year.
Migrants’ rights – domestic workers
Tens of thousands of women migrant domestic workers faced economic, physical and psychological abuse with little or no protection from the state. Many worked up to 19 hours a day with no days off and were denied some or all of their wages. Many were effectively imprisoned in their employers’ home. Many were beaten by their employers and representatives of recruitment agencies. Few perpetrators of abuse were prosecuted or otherwise punished.
In July, parliament approved various amendments to the Labour Law as a result of which domestic workers will no longer be explicitly excluded from its scope. A separate regulation will be issued to regulate the conditions of employment of migrant domestic workers.
- A 22-year-old Indonesian worker attempted suicide after being raped three times by her employer’s son and being sexually abused twice by her employer. When the wife of her employer found out, she beat the young woman.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
Jordan continued to host as many as 500,000 Iraqi refugees, most of whom fled Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003. Most had no legal status as they were unable to meet the narrow criteria for obtaining residence permits and so were not legally entitled to work. Access to Jordan for Iraqis seeking international protection remained very restricted and in May the government introduced new visa requirements obliging Iraqis to obtain visas in Iraq before seeking to enter Jordan.
At least 14 people were sentenced to death but there were no executions. Draft law changes proposed in 2006 which would reduce the number of capital offences remained pending before the parliament.
In December, Jordan abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
Amnesty International visitsAmnesty International delegates visited Jordan in March and October.
Amnesty International reportsJordan: Isolated and abused: Women migrant domestic workers in Jordan denied their rights (30 October 2008)
Lenient sentences for perpetrators of “honour killings” a step backwards for protection of women in Jordan (24 April 2008)