Jordanian security forces target teachers in new wave of arrests

Jordanian security forces target teachers in new wave of arrests
3 min read
29 March, 2022
Dozens were arrested as authorities tried to prevent teachers from staging a protest, the second time in a week the government targets activists in such a fashion.
The wave of arrests is part of a "new policy" of the Jordanian government to prevent protests by arresting their organisers, critics said.

At least 25 members of Jordan's teachers' syndicate, the country's largest independent labour union, were arrested on Tuesday as authorities tried to prevent a protest in front of the Ministry of Education.

The syndicate had planned a sit-in to protest the forced retirement of several teachers and restrictions placed by the government on the organisation and its members since 2020.

The 150,000 strong labour union was formed after Jordan's 2011 "Arab Spring" protests and has been a major organising force not only for teachers but also for Jordanians sympathetic to its mission.

Since then, the syndicate has been behind some of the largest protests in the country, such as a strike in fall 2019, when teachers took to the streets to demand higher pay.

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The syndicate was shut down in July 2020 and most of its leadership was arrested, sparking popular protests across the country with over 1,000 protesters detained by security forces. The syndicate has since been re-opened, but its leadership has been replaced and members face restrictions in organizing collective actions.

One of the union members, Alaa Abu Tarboush, was arrested as he was dropping his kids off at school. According to Abu Tarboush's father, four security officials stopped his car and arrested him, taking him to an unknown location.

Tuesday's arrests come fresh off the back of another wave of arrests on 24 March, in which 45 activists were detained by security forces before being released. Similar to Tuesday, the arrests on 24 March were meant to head off protests.

Members of the Jordanian opposition "Partnership and Salvation Party" gathered for a press conference on Monday where they condemned the "cessation of the rights" of those arrested.

They further announced they would be launching a court case to support the detained.

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"What happened on 24 March with the arrest of the dozens and what happened today with further detentions is against the law and the international treaty of human rights to which Jordan is a signatory," Khaled Hussein, a spokesperson for the party who was also arrested on 24 March, told The New Arab.

"I was not even planning to protest, but just because they expected that I would participate, they came and arrested me in front of my home, while I was still in my pyjamas. They kept me for 12 hours, and I didn't know why I was arrested or what the charges were against me," Hussein said.

"This was a kidnapping operation, not a lawful procedure," he added.

Hussein, and other detainees of 24 March, were interrogated about their intentions to participate in a protest. According to Hussein, this "appears to be a new policy" being employed by the government against opposition figures.

Though most of the activists who were detained were released on the same day, one of the activists, Anas al-Jamal has been kept in jail and charged with cybercrimes.

The arrest of Al-Jamal, a street vendor who has been made popular due to his activism, prompted an outcry, with calls to free him circulating on Jordanian social media.

He faces the possibility of a minimum of five years in prison due to a Twitter post where he criticised the UAE, Israel and Egypt, according to Malak Abu Oraibi, a lawyer with the National Forum for Defending Freedom.

Such a harsh sentence would be "a dangerous sign of the path we are walking on," Abu Oraibi added.

Jordan's constitution enshrines the right to assembly, free speech and protest, but heavy-handed approaches to protests and dissent are common. In 2021, Freedom House downgraded the country from "partially free" to "not free," for its crackdown on the teachers' syndicate.

In December, parliament passed a number of constitutional reforms meant to "modernise" Jordan's political system. Critics allege that some of the reforms take power from the legislature and centralise it in the hands of the king.