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Jordan quashing civic space by cracking down on dissent: Report

Authorities detain, harass citizens who express opinions in 'downward spiral' on rights, says Human Rights Watch
A Jordanian teacher confronts security forces during a protest in the Amman on 5 September 2019 (AFP)

Jordanian authorities are quashing civic spaces by persecuting and harassing citizens engaging in peaceful political dissent, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) published on Sunday.

The New York-based NGO investigated 30 cases between 2019 and 2022 in which criminal defamation provisions were used to arrest and charge Jordanians expressing political opinions, and spoke to 42 activists about their experiences with law enforcement. 

It found that authorities detained, interrogated and harassed journalists, activists, trade unionists and members of political parties, as well as their family members. 

"There is an urgent need to address the downward spiral on rights we are seeing in Jordan today," said Lama Fakih, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "'Maintaining stability' can never be a justification for abusing people's rights and closing space that every society needs."

The report documented 10 cases in which the General Intelligence Department, Jordan's main security agency, arbitrarily detained activists between 2018 and 2021. 

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Several family members of those activists said plain-clothed officers were among those to carry out arrests. In three of the cases, activists were held in solitary confinement with limited light and no visits from family or lawyers. 

Of the 42 Jordanian activists who spoke to HRW, 41 said they had been quizzed by security authorities about their campaigning. Twelve said they had been summoned in some form on more than 10 occasions. 

Nineteen of the activists said they had lost their jobs due to harassment by security agencies, while 16 said that friends or relatives had been threatened with job losses or further harassment. 

Seventeen said they had difficulties in obtaining a certificate of good conduct, a document that is required for work, visa and residency applications. Nine said they had problems with renewing official documents such as driver's licences and passports. 

'Reverse closure of civic space'

The report also noted that Jordan's government had dissolved political parties and independent trade unions after members expressed political opposition. 

It cited the example of the Jordan Teachers Syndicate, whose board members were arrested in July 2020 following a high-profile dispute between the government and the union over salaries. The syndicate was subsequently dissolved. 

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In December, CIVICUS Monitor, which analyses the situation for civil society across 197 countries, downgraded Jordan's rating from "obstructed" to "repressed". 

"Jordanian authorities should take urgent steps to reverse the closure of civil space and allow Jordanians to fully participate in the social and political life of the country without hindrance," said Fakih. 

Earlier this week, Middle East Eye reported that young Jordanians were becoming increasingly frustrated with what they see as limits being placed on the country's democracy, and the targeting and harassment of political party activists.

It follows dozens of Jordanians protesting in front of the headquarters of the Independent Election Commission last Sunday, accusing the state of taking actions "to silence mouths, restrict freedoms and exclude young people from participating in [the] political environment".

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