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Jordan

Area: 89,000 sq. km. Population: 5,051,000 Language: Arabic Type of state: monarchy Head of state: King Abdullah II Head of government: Prime Minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb

Jordan-2003 Annual Report

Press freedom shrank further during the year. The regime took a rigid conservative stand towards growing tensions in the country. Amendments to the criminal code in 2001 increased official censorship, media self-censorship grew and more journalists were imprisoned. The Internet remained an area of freedom however.

A former cabinet minister called Jordan "a police state with a democratic façade." Parliament was dissolved in June 2001 and no new elections were held. In August 2002, King Abdullah announced their postponement for the second time, a month before they had been due, saying he was putting them off until spring 2003 so they would not be influenced by events in the region.

The government used the absence of parliament to greatly toughen the security and press laws in October 2001, curbing the right to assembly and banning journalists from covering a wide range of subjects. Fines for criticising the king and his wife, publishing news that was considered false, libellous, harming the reputation of the state or inciting people to go on strike, hold illegal public meetings or disturb public order were replaced by prison terms of between one and three years.

The authorities stepped up pressure on civil society in 2002, banning professional organisations opposed to the 1994 agreement normalising relations between Israel and Jordan. The ban came as the new uprising in the Palestinian Territories exposed and aggravated divisions in Jordanian society - between leaders and the people, rich and poor, Islamists and secular people and between supporters and opponents of normalisation with Israel.

Many demonstrations in support of the Palestinian intifada took place in March and April. In November, the army brutally intervened in the southern town of Ma’an to arrest Islamist militants and at least four people were killed in clashes. Press freedom once more suffered during the year from the precarious balance between these opposing forces.

King Abdullah inaugurated a TV production and broadcasting company in Amman on 25 March called Jordan Multimedia Production, under an agreement between the government and Saudi billionaire Sheikh Salah Kamel. The head of the Higher Media Council, Kamel Abu Jaber, resigned on 13 July in protest at what he regarded as the government’s inertia. When a new government was appointed in January, an information minister (Mohammed Adwan) was named, despite an October 2001 decision to abolish the ministry and replace it by the Higher Media Council.

Five journalists imprisoned

Fahd Rimawi, editor of the left-wing nationalist weekly Al-Majd, was arrested on 13 January 2002 for writing and publishing articles allegedly liable to harm the image of the state and the dignity of its citizens. His arrest came after the paper ran an article on 7 January criticising the performance of Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb’s government and announcing that a new government was about to be formed. He was sentenced to two weeks in prison and then freed on bail on 16 January. The national journalists’ union called for the tough October 2001 press law amendments to be repealed.

Hashem al-Khalidi, editor of the weekly Al-Bilad gave himself up to police on 13 March, a few days after writing in the paper that government ministers were embezzling public funds through a decision to double vehicle insurance rates. The chief prosecutor of the state security court ordered his arrest on 16 March for "spreading news harming the image of the state and its leaders." He was questioned and then freed on bail on 21 March. The paper’s owner, Tajeddin Hrub, was arrested on 14 March for being technically responsible for publishing Khalidi’s article and freed on 19 March.

Toujan al-Faisal, 53, a former TV journalist and Jordan’s first-ever woman member of parliament, was arrested on 16 March and accused of harming the image of the state. In an open letter that appeared on 6 March on the website of the Houston (Texas)-based Arab Times, she had accused Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb of having profited financially from a government decision to double vehicle insurance rates. She was freed on bail on 27 March but arrested again two days later and accused of "harming the kingdom’s image."

At a 13 May court appearance, prosecutor Col. Mohammed Hijazi accused her of using media hostile to Jordan to make false accusations that distorted the country’s image. She was criticised for saying in Baghdad in March that Jordan’s position about a possible attack on Iraq kept changing in accordance with its own interests.

She was sentenced on 16 May, without the possibility of appeal, to 18 months in prison. She went on hunger strike and was taken to hospital on 8 June. King Abdullah pardoned her on 26 June on humanitarian grounds, in response to an appeal by the country’s Circassian community, to which she belongs.

The state security court ordered the arrest on 14 August of Sakher Abu Anzeh (publisher) and Mamun al-Russan (editor) of the satirical weekly Al-Jazira for allegedly harming relations with a foreign country and showing disrespect for a foreign head of state and his foreign minister, as well as spreading supposedly false news. The paper had published a photo-montage on 12 August depicting the ruler of Qatar as a singer and his foreign minister as a belly-dancer. Anzeh was freed on 15 August and Russan three days later, both of them on bail.

Two journalists arrested

Two journalists from Ma’an, Yasser Abuhlale, correspondent of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera who had been banned from working three months earlier, and Samir Abuhlale, of the daily paper Al-Arab Al-Yum, were arrested on 10 November 2002 after clashes in Ma’an between armed Islamists and security forces. The state security court accused them putting out false news inciting people to disorder and crime." They were questioned and then freed the next day.

Pressure and obstruction

The national press syndicate debated on 4 January 2002 whether to expel Abdullah Attoum, editor of the weekly Al-Hilal, for travelling to Israel. He told a disciplinary committee he had broken the rules so as to get interviews with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. The syndicate decided on 23 January not to punish him but ordered him to apologise in writing and reiterate his opposition to normalising relations with Israel.

The weekly Al Hadath, which was about to publish the remarks of two former intelligence chiefs, was forced on 18 February to appear with blank spaces where the interviews would have been.

An article about a fraud case in the weekly Al Majd was censored by the state security court prosecutor on 3 March. Legal officials delayed publication of the weekly on 5 March because of another article, which criticised former internal security chief Samih al-Bateehki. The appearance of the weekly Al-Wihda was also delayed by the military prosecutor because of an article about the fraud case.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations by thousands of people throughout the country on 5 March converged on the Sheikh Hussein Bridge, the crossing point into Israel. TV journalists from Reuters TV, APTN and Al-Jazeera wanted to use the offices of the state TV company JTV as the only place with the facilities needed to send their film of the protests. They were not allowed to and much of their film was confiscated. On 8 March, JTV asked to look at film shot in the Baga Palestinian refugee camp before allowing several Arab media to use their facilities. Al Manar TV, Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV agreed to make requested changes before being allowed to transmit the film.

Security forces seized the camera of journalists working for APTN, Reuters TV and Abu Dhabi TV on 10 March after they had filmed a pro-Palestinian gathering at Jordan University. The cameras were returned soon afterwards, minus their film. Information minister Mohammed Adwan cancelled the accreditation of the Qatar-based pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera on 7 August, leading to the immediate closure of the station’s Amman office. It was accused of knowingly harming Jordan and its national policies. The station’s four correspondents were banned from working in the country under pain of prosecution.

The ban came after Al-Jazeera featured on its "Opposite Direction" programme a Jordanian-born US academic who strongly criticised the late King Hussein, saying he had been in the pay of the United States. The episode quickly turned into a diplomatic crisis, with the summoning of the Qatari ambassador by the Jordanian government and the recall of the Jordanian ambassador in Qatar on 10 August for consultations.

Amman airport officials seized videotape on 29 August from Al-Jazeera’s sports correspondent, who was on his way to Qatar, saying they wanted to check whether his film had been shot before Jordan’s ban on the station came into effect on 7 August.

Police arrested civil and political rights activist Hisham Bustani on 24 December after he wrote an article denouncing prison conditions in Jordan, based on his five-day detention at Jweidah prison a few months earlier, in the November-December issue of the literary magazine Al-Adab. Bustani is a member of the Union of Professional Associations, which campaigns against normalising relations with Israel and was outlawed by the Jordanian government earlier in the year. The issue of the magazine, which focused on censorship in Egypt, was also banned in Kuwait.



north africa / middle east countries list
North Africa and the Middle East Introduction - 2003 Annual Report
Algeria
Egypt
Iran
Iran
Iraq
Israel and the Occup. Terr.
Kuwait
Lebanon
Libya
Morocco
Palestinian Authority
Qatar
Saudi Arabia
Sudan
Syria
Tunisia
United Arab Emirates
Yemen

see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Asia Annual Report
2003 Americas Annual Report
2003 Europe Annual Report