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Jordan cannot claim democratic reform amid protesters' trials: HRW

Jordanian authorities cannot claim democratic reform amid security trials for peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch says

Bassem Aly, Friday 30 Nov 2012
Protesters from the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties shout slogans during a demonstration following an announcement that Jordan would raise fuel prices, including a hike on cooking gas, after Friday prayers in Amman November 16, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Human Rights Watch called Jordanian authorities on Friday to stop using the state security courts to try demonstrators, following arrests this month for protesting against rising fuel prices.

The rights watchdog mentioned that state authorities arrested over 300 people since 14 November, though some of them were released. Also, some 107 people, including 9 children, encountered charges for "subverting the system of government," "participation in unlawful gatherings", and "vandalism of property."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out that security forces had attacked protesters during demonstrations and in detention centers, adding that the State Security Court is a "special court" that comes under the authority of the government, not as an independent entity.

"The prime minister appoints its judges, who typically sit on panels of two military judges and one civilian judge. The court has jurisdiction over penal code crimes deemed to harm Jordan’s internal and external security – involving drugs, explosives, weapons, espionage, and high treason, but also including offenses related to peaceful speech," Human Rights Watch said.

The rights organization urged authorities to drop charges against peaceful protesters and investigate all episodes of police abuse.
Human Rights Watch also argued that Amman cannot claim to be pursuing democratic reforms while the regime is "punishing" dissent.

Violent protests that shocked Jordan this month have mostly subsided, but unprecedented chants for the "fall of the regime" suggested a deeper malaise in a kingdom so far spared from the revolts reshaping the Arab world.

Anger over fuel subsidy cuts undoubtedly drove the unrest, in which police shot dead one man during a confrontation at a police station.

The government's planned electricity price rises starting next year may well ignite more popular fury.

This month's protests were the most violent of several bouts of unrest in Jordan since the Arab uprisings erupted nearly two years ago and toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

King Abdullah has made some constitutional reforms and his counsellors say turnout at a parliamentary poll in January 2013 will test public support for the pace of political change amid an acute financial crisis that has forced Jordan to go to the IMF.

However, the model that has kept Jordan relatively stable for decades is cracking, nowhere more so than in the tribal East Bank provinces long seen as the bedrock of support for the Hashemite monarchy installed by Britain in 1921. 

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