Jordan: Freedom of expression at risk



* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty
International *

19 March 2002
MDE 16/007/2002
50/02


The arrests of a former MP and a journalist after they publicly
criticised the Jordanian government sends a worrying signal for
freedom of expression in Jordan, Amnesty International said
today.

        Toujan al-Faisal, former member of the Jordanian
Parliament, and Hashem al-Khalidi, editor of the weekly al-Bilad,
were arrested on 16 and 17 March respectively, in connection with
their public criticism of the government=s policies. Both face
imprisonment of between three and six months, or a fine of not
more than 5,000 Jordanian dinars; or both punishments.

        "All Toujan al-Faisal and Hashem al-Khalidi are 'guilty'
of is freely expressing their opinions," Amnesty International
said, calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

        Following interrogation, the State Security Court
Prosecutor ordered that Toujan al-Faisal be held for 15 days
(which is renewable) reportedly on charges of "publishing
material deemed harmful to the country's reputation and that of
its citizens" as well as "tarnishing the Jordanian state". She is
being held in Jweidah prison, Amman. A second application for her
bail, made on 17 March, is pending. On Sunday, Toujan al-Faisal
began a hunger strike protesting her arrest. Today, her brother
was refused access to visit her in prison.

        Hashem al-Khalidi  was arrested on the order of the State
Security Court prosecutor following publication of an article in
his newspaper column of 11 March.  He is to be held for 15 days
pending trial apparently on charges of "publishing false material
deemed harmful to the country's reputation and that of its
citizens".

        The arrests  followed hastily promulgated new laws
placing limitations on the freedom of expression by making
illegal a number of new vaguely defined offences in relation to
harming national unity; harming the prestige, integrity and
reputation of the state; inciting disturbances, sit-downs and
unauthorized public meetings; causing harm to the dignity,
reputation or personal freedom of individuals; destabilizing
society through the promotion of deviance and immorality; and
dissemination of false information and rumours.

        These laws were passed through a provisional order in the
absence of Parliament, in the wake of the 11 September events,
and came into effect on 2 October 2001, immediately after
approval by King >Abdallah bin Hussein.

        "All laws allowing for the detention of those exercising
their right to the freedom of expression should be immediately
repealed," Amnesty International said, urging the Jordanian
government to bring the country's legislation into line with
international human rights law.

Background

Prior to these arrests, and since the introduction of the amended
penal laws of October which include "anti-terrorist" legislation,
two other journalists were arrested. Fahd al-Rimawi, the
editor-in-chief of the weekly political newspaper al-Majd, was
arrested on 13 January 2002 and held until 16 January.  He was
charged with "writing and publishing false information and
rumours that may harm the prestige and reputation of the state
and slander the integrity and reputation of its members"
following the publication on 7 January of an opinion piece
critical of the Jordanian government. Fahd al-Rimawi was released
on bail of 5,000 Jordanian dinars ($7,100) pending his referral
to the State Security Court (see: Jordan: Security measures
violate human rights, February 2002, MDE 16/001/2002).

        Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, which Jordan has ratified, establishes the
right to freedom of expression which includes the "... freedom to
seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds,
regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print,
in the form of art, or through any other media of [one's]
choice."

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