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Jordan fails to implement U.N. recommendations regarding press freedom

In 2010, 2011, and 2012, Jordan passed new legislation that threatens freedom of expression and extends executive control over online media outlets. Freedom of expression and association remain circumscribed in law and practice, and security services enjoy a large degree of impunity for arbitrary arrests and torture, as do employers for abuses against migrant domestic workers. Arrests of dissidents and journalists have increased, as has the incidence of trials in the State Security Court.

Freedom of Expression

During its previous UPR in 2009, Jordan accepted the recommendation to “take further steps to promote an open and free press where journalists may report on a full spectrum of political, social, and economic issues without fear of retribution”. However Jordan continues to criminalize speech that is critical of the King, Islam, government officials and institutions, as well as speech deemed defamatory to other persons, and has taken measures that further restrict rather than promote free speech. In 2010, a revision of the penal code increased penalties for some speech offenses by criminalizing defamation, against entities (not individuals) such as government institutions, symbols, and religions. The revision makes any violation a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment. The 2010 Law on Information System Crimes extended these provisions to online expression by prescribing fines of US $140-$2,800 for sending or publishing anything defamatory of another person through information systems, including email, text messages, or the internet.

In October 2012, the parliament passed new amendments to the Press and Publications Law. These require the country's independent news websites to register with the Press and Publications Department, granting executive authorities the power to censor or close down unlicensed sites. The new amendments also make the owner, editor-in-chief, and director of an electronic publication responsible, along with the author, for comments or posts that users put on their website. The website managers are obliged “not to publish user comments containing information or facts unrelated to the news item or if their truth has not been checked” or if they violate any laws. The new amendments also require that the editor-in-chief of a news website be a member of the Jordan Press Association (JPA) for at least four years, although the JPA only allows membership to employees of print publications according to its bylaws. The new regulations for online media amount to arbitrary interference in the right to free expression.

On June 2, the director of the Press and Publications Department issued an order to censor over 200 news websites that refused to register with the Press and Publications Department in protest against the new legal amendments and to preserve their independence; the websites remain blocked at this writing.

Military prosecutors have charged journalists and website editors who have posted and approved critical content using politicized charges, including “subverting the ruling regime”, “insulting the state”, and under articles 5 and 7 of the Press and Publications Law, which require journalists to be “objective”.

Member states of the Human Rights Council should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Rescind the recent amendments to the Penal Code, Press and Publications Law, and the Law of Information System Crimes, which threaten freedom of expression and which treat libel and slander as criminal offenses;
  • Drop charges against journalists and website editors, which are related to freedom of expression;
  • Start a drafting process to revise the existing Penal Code, Press and Publications Law, and Law of Information System Crimes that includes broad civil society participation and assistance from international human rights law experts, and with the aims of enhancing the protection of and promoting freedom of expression;
  • Abolish or amend Penal Code articles 118, 122, 132, 150, 191, 193, 195, and 273, which place impermissible restrictions on freedom of expression.

Freedom of Assembly

In 2008, Jordan's parliament passed a new Law on Public Gatherings (Assembly Law), which required prior written approval by a provincial governor in order to hold a public meeting. Under an amended version of the law, which took effect in March 2011, Jordanians no longer require government permission to hold public meetings or demonstrations. However, as demonstrations increased in 2012, prosecutors began resorting instead to charging protesters with participating in “unlawful gatherings” using article 165 of the Penal Code.

As protests intensified, authorities tried protesters in the State Security Court, a special court that is not independent of the executive. Since 2011, the State Security Court prosecutor has charged at least 70 protesters with offenses including “vandalism of property”, “participation in unlawful gatherings”, and “subverting the ruling regime.”

On September 1, 2013, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour announced that his government would introduce amendments to the State Security Court law that would prevent trials of civilians in front the court except for crimes involving terrorism, espionage, treason, money counterfeiting, and drug offenses. The changes would bring the court into compliance with article 101 of Jordan's constitution. The court would retain jurisdiction over vaguely-worded crimes such as “subverting the ruling regime” or “inciting resistance to the regime” (Penal Code article 149), which the Penal Code classifies as terrorism offenses. Some of the protesters on trial before the State Security Court are facing charges under article 149 for actions such as engaging in protest chants deemed insulting to the king.

The member states of the Human Rights Council should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Amend the Penal Code to remove arbitrary restrictions on public gatherings;
  • Drop charges against persons facing prosecution or imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedoms of expression or assembly;
  • Transfer all cases of civilians tried under the State Security Court to civilian courts.


During the previous UPR in 2009, Jordan accepted the recommendation to “revise the recently adopted “Law on Societies” to ensure that the provisions of this law are in line with international human rights standards,” to “remove the government approval requirement in the work of NGOs” and to “reduce restrictions on their activities and allow them adequate freedom of action.” As yet, the government has taken no action to implement this recommendation.

Just before the 2009 UPR, parliament passed an amended Law of Societies that maintained the authority of the government to intrude into the internal activities of NGOs. The amended law gives authorities discretionary powers to reject applications to register new NGOs, and wide powers to close existing ones. It obliges NGOs to inform the authorities in advance of planned activities and certain meetings, which they must allow officials to attend. The government is empowered to scrutinize NGO bank accounts. Article 17.c.1 of the Law of Societies requires Jordanian NGOs who wish to receive foreign funding to notify the cabinet, listing the source, amount, and method of receipt of the funding, as well as its purpose and any special conditions attached to it. The cabinet has 30 days to reply. It may reject any such request without giving any reason, although the NGO can then appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice to reverse the government's decision. In 2012, the cabinet rejected an application by Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights, a registered NGO, to receive US$350,000 of foreign funding, without providing a reason. The Supreme Court of Justice upheld the cabinet decision in September 2012.

The member states of the Human Rights Council should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Amend of repeal the Law of Societies to remove the executive branch’s excessive powers to interfere in the activities of NGOs;
  • Start a drafting process to revise the existing law to include broad participation by civil society and assistance from international human rights law experts, and:
  • Permit foreign funding of NGOs, whether foreign or local, so long as all foreign exchange and customs laws are fully observed;
  • Remove the government’s ability to impose any form of governmental management, or dissolve a NGO, without first obtaining a court order which the NGO has an opportunity to challenge before the courts.

Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

Torture and other ill-treatment remain a concern in Jordan's police stations and prisons despite a reform program initiated in 2006. During the previous UPR in 2009, Jordan accepted recommendations to ensure that “that allegations of torture and ill-treatment of convicted prisoners and detainees be investigated in a timely, transparent, and independent fashion,” and to “implement an independent and transparent complaints mechanism to deal with reports of prisoner ill-treatment.” In 2011, Jordanian lawmakers amended article 8 of the kingdom's constitution to explicitly ban torture and other ill-treatment as well as the use of torture tainted evidence during trials.

However, perpetrators of torture or other ill-treatment continue to enjoy near-total impunity. Credible allegation of torture are routinely ignored because it remains up to police prosecutors and police judges to investigate, prosecute, and try their fellow officers. At the Police Court, where such cases are heard, two out of three sitting judges are police-appointed police officers.

Police prosecutors routinely fail to pursue investigations and diligently prosecute alleged offenders. For example in 2012, no investigation took place into alleged police abuses against protesters, although at least one protester was treated at a hospital for injuries allegedly sustained during police beatings. To date, no police or intelligence officer has even been convicted of torture under article 208 of the Penal Code.

In late March 2013, a public prosecutor investigated the death-in-custody of Sultan al-Khatatba, whom authorities had arrested on a drug possession charge. The prosecutor recommended that at least six police officers should face charges of torture under article 208, the first such recommendation known. Judicial authorities, however, transferred the case to the police court, which at this writing has not released any public information on the progress of the case.

The member states of the Human Rights Council should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Remove jurisdiction over criminal matters involving police and prison abuse from the Police Court;
  • Ensure civilian prosecutors assume jurisdiction over and carry out transparent and effective investigations into allegations of abuse of detainees and other prisoners, including by conducting regular inspections of places of detention and holding private meetings with prisoners;
  • Ensure that adequate numbers of prison doctors, including psychiatrists, are available and train them to detect evidence of torture or other ill-treatment.

Arbitrary and Administrative Detention

During the previous UPR in 2009, Jordan accepted the recommendation to “actively seek to address concerns on the use of administrative detention, to review it, and ensure that current detainees have access to legal representation and to the courts.” However, the use of administrative detention has increased in recent years, with the total number of administrative detainees in Jordan rising to between 11,000 and 12,000 in 2011. Administrative detention laws are problematic, because they deny those detained their fundamental rights to due process.

Jordanian authorities use the Crime Prevention Law of 1954 to circumvent provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law which accord defendants' due process rights, including the rights to be charged and be given a fair trial. Under the 1954 law, any provincial governor, who reports to the Ministry of Interior, can authorize the administrative detention for up to one year of any person he deems a “danger to the public” without presenting any evidence of a crime committed or in progress. Administrative detainees can challenge their detention before the law courts only if they can show a procedural violation in the issuance of the detention order. They are allowed legal assistance, but rarely have a lawyer present when the governor issues their detention order.

Police and provincial governors frequently use administrative detention orders to continue to detain persons whom a judge has freed on judicial bail. They also use it to circumvent the requirement under the criminal law to refer a detained suspect to a prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest. Governors have put people in administrative detention for breaching curfews or requirements that they report regularly to the police, as well as victims of tribal feuds, and individuals with long criminal records.

Female administrative detainees are especially vulnerable. They include women and girls at risk of domestic violence or so-called honor killing, where administrative detention is used ostensibly as a form of 'protective custody', although the Crime Prevention Law allows governors to detain only those they deem to be a danger to society. Jordan should take concrete steps to implement the recommendation it accepted during the previous UPR in 2009 to “review the practice of “protective custody”, and increase the capacity of existing mechanisms, or establish other efficient protective mechanisms for women at risk of violence.” Currently, governors continue to use the Crime Prevention Law to detain women and girls who are at risk rather than those who threaten their safety, and their release is permitted only when the governor accepts a male family member's assurance that the family will cause them no harm. Women whose male relatives refuse to provide such an assurance may spend years in administrative detention.

The member states of the Human Rights Council should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Abolish the Crime Prevention Law and refer all persons to the civilian prosecutor for investigation and charge where the evidence supports suspicion of criminal conduct;
  • Ensure that current administrative detainees have effective recourse to legal counsel and to courts to challenge the lawfulness of their detention;
  • Refer all women in protective custody to the government’s Wifaq Center or alternative non-governmental shelters for women at risk of violence.

Refugees and Migrants

Since 2011, Jordan has absorbed an influx of over 500,000 refugees fleeing Syria. The government requires all Syrian nationals fleeing irregularly into Jordan to be processed in a refugee camp, but allows those for whom a Jordanian citizen is willing to act as a guarantor to "bail out" and move freely in Jordan. In September2013, the Zatari camp had grown to almost 150,000 and hundreds, sometimes thousands, of refugees were arriving daily, asthe authorities construct additional camps.By contrast, Jordanian officials reject asylum seekers and refugees who lack Syrian nationality, such as long-term Palestinian residents of Syria, at the border, as well as almost all single men of military age, in violation of the customary international law principle of non-refoulement. After refugees rioted against their harsh living conditions atZatari camp in January2013, Jordan announced that all single men would be moved from there to the new Cyber City campthen under construction. When Human Rights Watch visited the site in February, before the plan to transfer single men to there from Zatari camp had been implemented, Jordanian authorities were detaining some 200 Palestinians who had entered Jordan before the border was closed to them in onebuilding. Jordanian authorities confiscate all passports of new arrivals as they cross into Jordan and usually issue a receipt for them. The government saysit will return passports to the Syrians as they leave the country.

Since late May 2013, Jordanian authorities have also temporarily prevented thousands of Syrians from crossing into Jordan to seek refuge, according to local and international aid agencies and refugees who spoke with Human Rights Watch. Between March and May, UNHCR registered between 1,000 and 2,000 individuals every day in the Za'tari camp. Between May 11 and May 16, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – which pre-registers Syrian asylum seekers as they cross the border into Jordan before transporting them to the Za'tari refugee camp for UNHCR formal registration – registered an average of 1,553 new arrivals per day.

Since May 17, the number of refugee arrivals from Syria has dropped dramatically to less than 200 per day. Although Jordanian officials deny closing the border and have attributed the fluctuation to fighting in Syria close to the border, refugees who did manage to cross the border in late May told Human Rights Watch that Jordanian officials had tried to prevent their entry and that of many others into Jordan. They said officials told them either that the border was temporarily closed to all refugees or that only between 50 and 150 people would be allowed to cross each day.

In 2008, Jordan included domestic workers under its labor law. During the previous UPR in 2009, Jordan had accepted the recommendation to “Implement all possible efforts to combat ill-treatment against foreign workers and to offer, through the Labor Code, adequate protection to all workers in Jordan.” In 2009, it issued regulations specifying labor protections, such as a maximum of 10 hours of work per day, a minimum of 8 hours of continuous rest each day, a weekly day of rest, and regular salary payments. In 2009, Jordan also passed a law against people trafficking that criminalizes forced labor for exploitation.

However, the effectiveness of these legal reforms has been minimal due to poor enforcement by authorities. Weak enforcement of existing rules means domestic workers sometimes forfeit rights, such as unpaid salaries, in exchange for the ability to return home. The Labor Ministry has only five inspectors for all domestic workers, but they have not exercised their authority to enter homes to follow up claims of domestic worker abuse. A labor dispute committee for domestic workers follows no clear guidelines and takes months to issue non-binding recommendations in cases of complaints by domestic workers. Documented cases show that some inspectors have failed to rule cases of overlong working hours – on average, 16 hours per day among those workers interviewed for a 2011 Human Rights Watch report – or failing to allow the worker a day off, as violations of the law. Nor have they fined employers for such practices

Jordanian law still permits an employer to restrict a domestic worker's movements, forcing the worker to stay in the employer's house. Jordan also does not allow domestic workers to change employers freely, even after the contract period has ended. Jordan imposes fines on those who are in Jordan without a valid residency permit. Only employers can apply for these permits for their domestic workers but many do not, exposing the worker to fines. Police detain domestic workers whose employers registered them as “escaped,” even when the worker had a valid residency permit.

The member states of the Human Rights Council should urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Respect the principle of refoulement by:
  • Permitting the entry of single male civilians of military age fleeing persecution and ongoing violence in Syria whose rejection at the border would threaten their lives and freedom;
  • Permitting Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria to enter Jordan and not rejecting them at the border or returning them from within Jordanian territory,and allowing them to be released through the system of Jordanian guarantors;
  • Enforce existing legal protections for migrant domestic workers and ratify the International Labour Organization treaty on domestic worker rights and bring itself into full compliance.

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