Jordan detains two journalists, including New Arab contributor Daoud Kuttab, under 'cybercrime' law

Jordan detains two journalists, including New Arab contributor Daoud Kuttab, under 'cybercrime' law
The two Jordanian journalists were released on bail after being held and interrogated by authorities at Jordan's Queen Alia airport.
3 min read
09 March, 2022
Jordan's cybercrime law has been criticized by rights groups for having a chilling effect on civil society. (Getty)

Jordanian authorities detained and interrogated two Jordanian journalists, including regular New Arab contributor Daoud Kuttab, under the country’s cybercrime law on Monday, before releasing them on bail.

Taghreed Risheq and Kuttab, were detained after they both arrived separately at the Queen Alia Airport just outside the capital city, Amman.

Both were charged with cybercrimes, with Kuttab specifically being accused of “spreading fake news and insulting [the issuer of the complaint]”. Kuttab received a travel ban and must appear in court on March 13, where he faces six months in prison should he be deemed guilty.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement expressing “concern” over the detention of the two journalists and said that the incident constituted “a violation of human rights”.

The CPJ also called for the amendment of the cybercrime law to prevent the imprisonment of journalists and other individuals over posts made on virtual applications.

Risheq, who is the former Amman and DC correspondent for Jordanian daily “al-Ghad” and now the Arabic media manager for the human rights organisation DAWN, was held for 12 hours at the airport before being released.

Kuttab, also a veteran journalist who frequently writes on topics considered ‘red-line’ issues in Jordan, was held and interrogated before being released to his home.

Jordan’s constitution officially enshrines the right to free speech and the freedom of the press.

Jordan’s cybercrime law, amended in 2019, allows individuals to file criminal complaints against people who they have accused of sharing fake news or slandering individuals online. The law has been used hundreds of times since 2019, in a wide variety of cases.

Critics say that in practice, the law has stifled dissent and been used as a tool against political activists.

The law also can hold individuals accountable for private messages sent over virtual applications used on private messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook messenger.

The leadership of the Jordanian Teacher Syndicate, which was shut down by the government in the summer of 2020, were initially charged under the electronic cybercrime law for sharing “fake news.”

A group of political activists active in the “Hirak” opposition movement were also detained on 13 February under the cybercrime laws for “spreading fake news.” Their lawyers said the posts cited as evidence were merely commentary on the economic conditions in Jordan.

In a case that received widespread attention in November 2021, the Prime Minister of Jordan, Bisher Khasawneh, sued a coffee vendor over a Facebook post, leading to popular outrage.

The coffee vendor had posted that the wife of the PM received a state salary – which led to his arrest after the PM alleged the post had caused him “psychological harm.”

Though less of an authoritarian country than its neighbours Iraq, Syria and Egypt, Jordan nonetheless has received criticism in recent years over its declining human rights record.

In 2021, Freedom House downgraded Jordan to "Not Free" from its previous score of "Partly Free", citing new restrictions on freedom of assembly and on civil society.

This article has been updated to include new information on Daoud Kuttab's court date and potential sentencing.