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Jordan: Answers about vanishing of man to UAE 'insufficent', says MP

Justice ministry says it never received extradition order for Khalaf al-Romaithi who is believed to have been taken by the UAE from Jordan in May
Khalaf al-Romaithi had lived in exile in Turkey, where he is pictured in a recent photo shared with friends, since 2012 (Supplied)
Khalaf al-Romaithi had lived in exile in Turkey, where he is pictured in a recent photo shared with friends, since 2012 (Supplied)
By Mohammad Ersan in Amman and Dania Akkad in London

Jordan's response to questions about the disappeared Turkish-Emirati dual national Khalaf al-Romaithi have only raised further queries, say the MP who posed the questions, Romaithi's lawyer and rights groups.

Romaithi, 58, was detained in Amman on 7 May after an iris scan at Queen Alia Airport revealed an Emirati warrant for his arrest. He was initially released on bail, but then later arrested by plainclothed police officers, and was due to have his case heard in court on 16 May.

After an initial court hearing on 9 May, Romaithi has not been seen by his lawyers and family.

A week later, Emirati state media reported that he had been "received" in the UAE. A Turkish official told interested parties that Romaithi was taken by a private plane to the UAE on 12 May.

But neither his exact whereabouts, nor how he ended up in the UAE have been clarified publicly by the UAE, Jordan or Turkey, who have remained silent on the topic - until the release this week of answers to parliamentary questions raised by Jordanian MP Adnan Mashuqa in May. 

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Among a list of queries, Mashuqa had asked the prime minister's office how it was possible that Romaithi had been extradited to the UAE without a court decision in Jordan. 

The justice ministry responded with a five-page letter released on Tuesday, with one line about Romaithi: "No extradition request was received from the Ministry of Justice concerning the citizen Khalaf al-Romaithi to date."

Both Mashuqa and Romaithi's lawyer, Asim al-Omari, told Middle East Eye that the response was insufficient and asked why, when questions were posed to the prime minister's office, only the justice ministry had responded.

"The response of the Ministry of Justice was evasive," Omari told MEE. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior must respond because they have roles according to the law in the agreement signed between Jordan and the UAE in 1999."

The 1999 agreement, which stipulates how the two countries cooperate legally, says that nationals arrested in the other country who are wanted for political issues should not be handed over, but also says that terrorism is not considered political.

'The response of the Ministry of Justice was evasive'

-Asim al-Omari, Romaithi's lawyer

These points are particularly relevant for the case of Romaithi who was convicted in 2013 in a mass trial dubbed the UAE94.

Rights groups have widely criticised the trial as grossly unfair and political in nature, while UAE authorities maintain that Romaithi and others convicted in the case are terrorists.

Last week, UN experts warned that the Arab Interior Ministers Council, an Arab League security body that circulated the UAE's warrant for Romaithi, is failing to shield people who are wanted for political activities from extradition.

The experts pointed, in particular, to concerns over the conflation of political activities and terrorism in the laws of some member states.

Hamad al-Shamsi, a friend of Romaithi’s who runs the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Centre, said he also found the ministry's response problematic and that it suggested to him that the government knows it violated international and even Jordanian laws.

"However, it is crucial for the Jordanian government to understand that these responses do not absolve them of their responsibility regarding Al-Romaithi as it was the government that detained him," he told MEE. 

"We are discussing a state where the rule of law should prevail. How can someone simply disappear and everyone involved evades responsibility? The judiciary claims no knowledge, and the government echoes the same words."

He added that the judiciary's lack of awareness suggests that his friend's case was handled entirely by the security services of both countries, and raised questions about Emirati influence on Jordan and its ability to transform sovereign ministries into "tools for carrying out kidnapping".

Jordanians imprisoned in UAE

Mashuqa had also asked the PM's office why Jordan had not sought the release of four Jordanians held in Emirati prisons given the agreement between the two countries.

In October 2015, Jordanian brothers Yasser and Abdullah Abu Bakr and their friends, Bahaa Adel Matar and Maher Attia Abu al-Shawareb, were arrested in the UAE on charges of sharing a video clip of the Islamic State on WhatsApp.

He went to Jordan to find a school for his son. Then he vanished
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All four were sentenced to 10 years in Emirati prison and a one million dirham ($272,294) fine each.

The justice ministry said that in order to have the men transferred to Jordan where they could complete their sentences, it required that their lawyer, partner or family members submit a written request to relevant authorities.

Yasser and Abdullah's mother, Manal Muhailan, submitted a request to the justice ministry in July 2020, which was referred on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates. "We are still awaiting a response to date," the ministry wrote.

The justice ministry said it had not received any other letters on behalf of the men. But MEE has seen a copy of a letter that Bahaa Adel Matar's mother says she sent to the justice ministry,  requesting her son's transfer to Jordan. MEE understands she never had a response from the ministry. 

When MEE contacted the ministry for response, an official said they had not received the letter, but will now follow up on it.

Omari, Romaithi's lawyer, said the contrast between how the government behaved with Romaithi and with its own citizens was striking. 

"Why was the response quick to the UAE's request to extradite al-Romaithi, while the UAE did not respond to the request of two families to have their children spend their sentences in Jordan?" he said.

"There is no seriousness on the part of the Jordanian government in following up on the situation of Jordanians sentenced in the UAE."

Mashuqa said he plans to conduct an oversight session in parliament where he will request oral answers to his questions from the justice, foreign affairs and interior ministries.

"If the answers in that session are not sufficient, I will turn the questions into an interrogation as stipulated in the Jordanian constitution."

The session, should it move forward, will be held in November.

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