King Abdallah has pushed political liberalisation since he came to the throne in 1999, but the “war on terrorism” since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US still serves as an excuse for the authorities to delay the reforms, including that of the press law. Two journalists appeared in court in 2006 in the row over the Mohamed cartoons.
Local journalists are closely watched by the country’s intelligence services and have to be members of the state-run Jordan Press Association. The king often says he favours decriminalisation of press offences, but journalists still face prison if they write things considered “harmful to the country’s diplomatic relations” or to do with the king and the royal family. The limits are clear and few journalists dare to breach them, preferring self-censorship.
The printing of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed by the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 sparked an angry reaction in Jordan, where parliament unanimously called in January 2006 for their authors to be punished for a “cowardly and reprehensible crime.” The king, whose legitimacy partly rests on his family’s descendance from Mohamed, said that any insult to the Prophet was an offence that could not be excused in the name of freedom of expression. Many media outlets around the world reprinted the cartoons and distribution of the French dailies France-Soir and Libération and Spain’s El Pais were banned in Jordan in February.
Two local journalists, Hisham al-Khalidi and Jihad Momani, editors of the weeklies Shihan and Al-Mehwar, were arrested twice in February to be questioned by a judge. Shihan reprinted three of the cartoons and called on Muslims worldwide to be “reasonable” and Al-Mehwar printed all 12 of them alongside an article about criticism of their publication. They were charged with offending religious feelings and given two-month prison sentences on 31 May.
The US army killing of Abu Mussab al-Zarkawi, head of the Iraqi branch of Al-Qaeda, led to protests in his native Jordan. The Amman bureau chief of the pan-Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera, Yasser Abu Hilala, was briefly arrested on 8 June while interviewing Al-Zarkawi’s brother in law and was not allowed to complete the interview.