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Journalist, environmental specialist to spend 15 days in jail for criticising government policy

(RSF/IFEX) - On 10 February 2010, a state security court prosecutor in Amman ordered newspaper columnist Mwaffaq Mahadin and Sufian Tell, a specialist in environmental issues, held for 15 days for criticising the assistance which the Jordanian intelligence services provide the United States in its fight against Al-Qaeda.

Mahadin, who writes for the daily "Al-Arab Al-Yawm", and Tell were taken to Al-Juweida prison, 15 km south of the capital, after responding to a summons for questioning.

"Their detention shows how difficult it is for Jordanians to criticise the government and the government's foreign policy and foreign cooperation decisions," Reporters Without Borders said. "Jailing citizens for exercising their right to free expression is archaic."

Mahadin criticised Jordan's cooperation with the United States on security issues when, as a journalist specialised in domestic and international politics, he participated in a debate on the satellite TV station Al Jazeera on 14 January. The debate followed a Jordanian double-agent's suicide bombing in Afghanistan on 30 December that killed seven CIA operatives.

Tell criticised Jordan's "military presence outside its borders" while speaking on local satellite TV station Nourmina.

Following these comments, retired military officers brought a complaint against the two men, accusing them of insulting the Jordanian armed forces.

Mahadin and Tell have been charged with actions that could damage relations with a foreign country, inciting racism, encourage the government's overthrow and harming the reputation of the state. Tell has also been charged with defaming the armed forces.

Mahadin's lawyer, Riyad Al-Nuwaisa, who attended his client's interrogation, said he thought the charges were closely linked to the current political situation. He added that they showed that it was impossible for anyone in Jordan to express an opinion at variance with government policy.

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