HRW presses Jordan to ease curbs on freedom of speech

AFP , Tuesday 28 Jan 2014

Human Rights Watch urged Jordan again Tuesday to reform laws that restrict freedom of expression, saying it is shameful that people can be jailed for chanting slogans or criticising officials.

In its World Report for 2014, US-based HRW called on parliament to "undertake critical reforms... to remove or amend laws that place impermissible limits on free expression."

"It's shameful that Jordanian prosecutors can still imprison people who simply chant a slogan at a protest or voice an opinion about a leader," Nadim Houry, HRW deputy Middle East director, told a news conference.

"Constitutional guarantees are just ink on paper if the authorities don't get rid of penal code articles that undermine them."

The report said people were prosecuted last year on such vaguely worded charges as "insulting an official body," "undermining the political regime" and "disturbing relations with a foreign state."

It said this was meant to "stifle" peaceful expression.

It cited the case of the editor and publisher of the Jafra News website, charged in September with "disturbing relations with a foreign state" with a third-party YouTube video showing a man, allegedly a Qatari prince, sitting on a bed with a woman.

The authorities, who said the video was insulting to the brother of Qatar's ruler, held the men until December 31 when an appeals court released them on bail and sent the case from the military State Security Court to the Amman Court of First Instance.

Their case is still pending.

HRW also criticised the government for blocking more than 200 websites for failing to comply with 2012 press law amendments requiring them to register with the country's press department.

It said dozens of pro-reform demonstrators face terrorism-related charges before the military tribunal "merely for chanting slogans or carrying signs at protests critical of the king and other officials."

Government officials were not available for comment.

Adam Coogle, HRW researcher for the Middle East and North Africa, Jordan has not taken tangible reform steps.

"To be honest, there have been some small steps forward, but I think in general it has been fairly the same," Coogle said.

"There was a lot of hope back in 2011 that the reform programme will lead to very real tangible changes on the ground... but things stayed pretty much the same."

Jordanians have held street protests for the past three years, demanding sweeping economic and political reforms as well as a tougher anti-corruption fight.

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