HRW slams Jordan's detention of Teachers Syndicate leaders

HRW slams Jordan's detention of Teachers Syndicate leaders
Jordan has cracked down on a teachers union after the threat of strikes.
4 min read
30 July, 2020
Jordan's teachers went on strike last year [Getty]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has slammed Jordan's detention of teachers syndicate officials and the shuttering of its offices last weekend.

Jordanian security forces raided Teachers Syndicate premises across the kingdom on Saturday with Attorney General Hassan Abdallat ordering the closure of the union offices.

Thirteen board members from the union were also detained in the crackdown which HRW said "raises serious concerns" about the rule of law in the kingdom.

"Shuttering one of the Jordan's few independent labor unions following a protracted dispute with the government and on dubious legal grounds raises serious concerns about the government's respect for the rule of law," Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said in a statement. 

"The lack of transparency and the ban on discussing this incident on social media only reinforces the conclusion that the authorities are violating citizens' rights."

Jordan said the action was taken after three criminal complaints were filed to public prosecution, but HRW questioned whether this gave authorities the right to shutter the syndicate's offices.

The 2011 Jordan Teachers Syndicate Law state's that the board can only be dissolved if two-thirds of the members approve or if a judicial order is issued. 

Neither the attorney general nor public prosecutors in this case are empowered to take such action.

Jordanian teachers took part in strike action last year over a dispute on pay, which ended in October with the government agreeing to rises of between 35 percent and 75 percent.

During the peak of the coronavirus crisis in April, the government announced a freeze on public sector pay rises, sparking anger from the union which said it broke the agreement which ended the strike.

Witnesses of this weekend's clampdown complained that police entered the syndicate's premises without warrants and sometimes uniformed.

"I was there, along with four other employees and some syndicate members. [A policeman] wearing civilian clothing who didn't identify himself said that they have a judicial order to close the branch," one union member told the rights group.

"He was asking us to take our personal belongings and leave the place. I asked him to see the judicial order. I told him I need to see the written order, even if you don't have it with you now, I still need to see at least a copy of it. He didn't have it."

A lawyer for the syndicate confirmed that police did not show the relevant papers or reveal their identity when questioned.

"I told them this is illegal and I would need to see a judicial order to allow [them to shut down the office]. I told them if you show me an order, I will allow you to do whatever you want, otherwise everything you do is illegal," the lawyer said.

The family of the syndicate's detained deputy head, Nasser Al-Nawasra, said that he had received calls and text messages threatening him with detention if he did not "stop his activities", according to HRW.

"When we visited him in prison on Sunday he told us that [he was driving] on the Irbid-Amman highway and three GMC vehicles followed him, surrounded his car [to stop him], and put a black plastic bag on his head and arrested him. He was treated in a very unethical way," the family member informed the rights group.

In addition to the 13 syndicate officials who were detained on Saturday, HRW said it had received the names of dozens of more people who were also allegedly arrested. 

Police also threatened to detain teachers who took part in a demonstration to protest the syndicate's closure. 

An interior ministry memo leaked on social media warned public sector workers not to take part in protests.

Security forces were reportedly on the streets of Amman in large numbers on Wednesday, when protests were expected to take place.

HRW said that Jordanian authorities should reverse its closure of the syndicate's offices and release all those detained if there was no legal basis to keep them behind bars.

"A government takeover of a union and a harsh crackdown is a worrisome reflection of how insecure the Jordanian government is when faced with opposition," Page said. 

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