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Jordan arrests two journalists over report on finance minister

Judges preside over a trial in a courtroom in Amman, Jordan, 17 July 2017
Judges preside over a trial in a courtroom in Amman, Jordan, 17 July 2017

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 17 January 2018.

Authorities should immediately release two journalists from the independent news website Jfranews who have been charged under Jordan's Press and Publication Law and Cybercrime Law, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

An Amman prosecutor yesterday ordered the arrest of the paper's editor-in-chief, Shadi al-Zinati, and editor Omar Sabra al-Mahrama after Jordanian Finance Minister Omar Malhas filed a complaint against Jfranews, according to news reports and an article by the journalists' employer.

A post on the Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera's official Facebook page said that the journalists were arrested over an article published earlier this month about the finance minister. News reports said that the article accused Malhas of tax evasion. The director of the Department of Income and Sales Tax said the report was inaccurate, according to reports.

"Jordanian authorities must not use broad and vaguely defined laws to imprison journalists and stifle media freedom," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour in New York. "We call on authorities to immediately release Shadi al-Zinati and Omar Sabra al-Mahrama and allow them to do their job safely and without fear of retaliation."

The prosecutor charged the journalists with violating articles 5, 7, and 38 of the Press and Publication Law, and Article 11 of the Cybercrime Law, according to news reports, regional press freedom groups, and Daoud Kuttab, a regional press freedom advocate based in Jordan.

The journalists' outlet, Jfranews, did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment.

Jordan's Press and Publication Law sets vague limits for what publications can publish and states that reproduced or quoted press material should be treated as original material. According to Freedom House, the law carries fines of up to US$40,000 for speech deemed to denigrate the government or religion. Those convicted under the Cybercrime Law, which penalizes online defamation, face up to four months in prison and a fine of 5,000 Jordanian dinars (US$7,000).

Journalists held a sit-in at the Jordanian Press Association today demanding the release of the al-Zinati and al-Mahrama, according to news reports.

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