Document - Jordan: Six pro-reform activists under investigation for “insulting” the King must be released
30 March 2012
AI Index: MDE 16/002/2012
Jordan: Six pro-reform activists under investigation for “insulting” the King must be released
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of six pro-reform activists held for “insulting” the King, four of whom have now been held for almost one month.
Amnesty International believes them to be prisoners of conscience held solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and that they are being punished for their pro-reform views and peaceful activities. Instead of using Article 195 of the Penal Code which criminalizes lèse majesté (insulting the dignity of the sovereign) the government should repeal this law which is contrary to Jordan’s obligations under international human rights law and is being used to stifle criticism of the government and political dissent.
The six detained are members of the Free Tafileh Movement, established over one year ago, which calls for constitutional and economic reforms and enhanced political freedom for Jordanians. According to information received by Amnesty International, at least three of them were beaten by security forces during initial interrogations.
According to their lawyer, Majdi Qableen, Sa’id Oran, Yasser Sabayla, Fadi al-Abadeen, Ibrahim al-Abadeen and Qaysar Muhaisen were brought before the State Security Court (SSC) in Amman on 26 March 2012 which heard their application for bail and informed them that they were facing charges under Article 195, which carries a maximum three-year sentence, as well as charges relating to unlawful gatherings.
No decision on their bail application had been made at the time of writing. Meanwhile, the six men continue to be held without formal charge, apparently pending investigations. If charged, they face trial by the State Security Court (SSC), a special court whose procedures fail to meet international fair trial standards. In particular, it continues to accept as evidence “confessions” and other testimony which has been alleged to have been taken under torture and does not take adequate steps to investigate such allegations. In 2010, the UN Human Rights Committee reiterated its recommendation that Jordan consider abolishing the SSC.
Majdi Qableen, an engineering student and member of the Free Tafileh Movement, was arrested around 11.00 pm on 5 March 2012. He had spent that day outside Tafileh in Karak, but on his return he learned that a protest in Tafileh that day had ended in violence. He therefore made his way to the scene of the earlier disturbances at around 10.00 pm where he began clearing away the debris caused by the protest. Around 11.00 pm he was arrested by security forces including four members of the Gendarmerie [darak]. According to his family, he was beaten with sticks including to his face and one of the officers throttled him until he fainted. After arrest, he was interrogated by General Intelligence Department (GID) officers at a police station in Tafileh. He was allegedly blindfolded, a bag placed over his head and his feet and hands chained; his interrogators apparently knocked his head against the wall while calling him a “rioter” and a “dangerous criminal”.
The lawyer on the case told Amnesty International that the following day three more members of the Movement - Sa’id Oran and Yasser Sabayla, both teachers, and Fadi al-Abadeen, an engineer, were also arrested and taken to Tafileh police station where the latter two were beaten by security officers.
From Tafileh the men were taken to a place of detention in Karak. After some three days they were transferred to Jweideh prison where they remained until 25 March when they were moved to Zarqa Correctional Facility.
According to contacts in Jordan, two more members of the Free Tafileh Movement – Ibrahim al-Abadeen, a student, and Qaysar Muhaisen, a civil servant - were arrested on 12 March 2012. Reportedly, a seventh man – Qusay al-Abadeen, the 20-year-old brother of Ibrahim - was arrested on 22 March 2012 after he left Jweideh prison where he had been visiting his brother. He reportedly remains in custody and is not thought to be a member of the Free Tafileh Movement.
Amnesty International has repeatedly raised concerns with Jordanian authorities that Article 195 is incompatible with Jordan’s obligations, under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to uphold the right to freedom of expression. It is used to silence political opponents and critics of government policy who, even where they have criticised the King, have not advocated violence or gone beyond legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression protected under international human rights law and standards.
Restrictions on the right to criticize the authorities or state institutions persist in Jordan and journalists, activists and others continue to face arrest and prosecution. This particular case appears to be part of a long-standing pattern of arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression which contradicts the Jordanian government’s assertions that it is undertaking reforms to enhance respect for freedom of expression and other human rights (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE16/001/2012/en).
Amnesty International urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Majdi Qableen, Sa’id Oran, Yasser Sabayla, Fadi al-Abadeen, Ibrahim al-Abadeen and Qaysar Muhaisen. The organization also reiterates its call on the government to bring relevant legislation, including Art 195 of the Penal Code, into conformity with its obligations under international human rights law to guarantee the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Furthermore, the authorities should ensure that allegations that at least three of the Tafileh detainees were beaten during interrogation, be investigated promptly by a fully independent and impartial, and that any findings be made public in a timely fashion.
The detention of the six men arises in the context of several months of regular protests in Tafileh where residents are objecting to rising unemployment and economic hardship. On 5 March 2012, a sit-in organized by residents at the council headquarters in the city ended in violence. Some protesters threw stones at the government building smashing windows and demonstrators reportedly clashed with security forces and a number were arrested. According to a journalist on the Jordan Times newspaper, between 12 and 18 individuals remain in detention apparently facing charges relating to rioting.
According to Amnesty International’s sources in Jordan, neither the detained men nor the Free Tafileh Movement were involved in organizing the 5 March protest. Indeed, an active member of the Movement told Amnesty International that it had released a statement prior to the event saying it would not participate for fear it could turn violent. The six prisoners of conscience remain in detention in Zarqa Correctional Facility.
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566 or email: email@example.com
International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK www.amnesty.org