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Arrest wave signals growing intolerance for dissent in Jordan

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Beirut, 14 September 2012 - The arrest by security forces of well over a dozen peaceful reform activists since September 7, 2012, signals the government's toughening stand toward demands for political reform in the kingdom. The authorities should release all of those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to expression, association, and assembly.

The security services arrested activists in various parts of the country for peacefully protesting or calling for reform, in what appeared to be a concerted move by security and judicial authorities against opposition groups. Those arrested include eight activists from the southern town of Tafila, two from Karak, and seven from Amman. All were charged under terrorism provisions, which place them under the purview of the military-dominated State Security Court, three lawyers for the activists told Human Rights Watch. All remain in detention.

"The arrests show how shallow promises of political freedoms in Jordan are," said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It is deeply worrying that Jordan is using laws against terrorism to prosecute peaceful activists."

Participants in the protests who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the demonstrations were peaceful and the government has not charged the activists in question with violent acts.

After noon prayers on Friday, September 7, a group of activists from the Tafila Popular Youth Movement, an opposition group, demonstrated in Tafila, a southern province, raising banners that said, "We will not pay the bills of your promiscuity," using a derogatory Arabic term with sexual connotations, and, "Down with the rule of the low-lifes."

Security forces at the protest arrested Muhammad al-Ma'abiri, who was holding one of the banners, another protester told Human Rights Watch.

In the evening, the group held another protest without banners calling for al-Ma'abiri's release. Security forces "randomly" arrested some participants, one of them told Human Rights Watch. Khalid al-Harasis, Husain Shubailat, Ahmad al-Jarayisha, Zaid al-Hajjaj, and Abd al-Mahdi al-'Awwajin were arrested at the demonstration. That night, security forces arrested Dr. Bassam al-'Amayiri, another participant, at his home. The military prosecutor at the military-dominated State Security Court charged them with "incitement to resisting the political system of government in the kingdom," under article 149 of the penal code.

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