Jordanian authorities arrest scores of activists, teachers in crackdown

Jordanian authorities arrest scores of activists, teachers in crackdown
"Instead of allowing a more open dialogue about how to move the country forward, [authorities] are shutting everything down and keeping people from talking," the deputy director of Human Rights Watch MENA said to The New Arab.
4 min read
06 December, 2022
Civil society actors say the recent spate of arrests are part of a larger trend against dissent launched by the government. [Getty]

Jordanian authorities arrested at least 30 teachers and activists on Monday, in addition to Sufyan Tell, a member of the country's political opposition.

The activists were arrested by security forces on their way to a protest in front of the Ministry of Education. Most of those detainees were released a few hours after their arrest, Jamal Jeet, a Jordanian lawyer familiar with the file, told The New Arab.

Teachers and activists were attempting to protest the forced retirement of teachers and call for their reinstatement, as well as for the re-opening of the Jordanian teacher's syndicate.

Among those arrested was the head of the Jordanian Teacher's Syndicate, Nasser al-Nasawra.

The string of arrests was the latest saga in the confrontation between the Jordanian government and the teacher syndicate – the largest independent labour union in the country.

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In July 2020, the government shut down the syndicate and detained its leadership, sparking countrywide protests and the arrest of at least 1,500 protesters. Jordan's Court of Cassation issued a ruling in September 2022 to reopen the syndicate, but the Ministry of Education has yet to do so.

Just hours after protesting teachers were arrested, Sufyan Tell, the 86-year old General Coordinator for the Popular Movement for Change, was arrested in a raid from his home.

His daughter, Ban Sufyan Tell, said that around 25 security force members raided his home and arrested him and two others without giving an explanation for their arrest.

The whereabouts and the charge of Sufyan Tell are still unknown to his family.

Security forces seized laptops and phones from the house, as well as searched the premises. Tell told TNA that male security officers also wrestled her phone from her grip, leaving her with bruises.

"I never expected that authorities would raid a house, especially a house with women in it. This is the sort of thing that happens in movies, not in Jordan," Tell said.

TNA asked Jordan's Public Security Directorate for a comment on the arrests of Tell and other activists but did not receive a response by the time of publishing.

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Rights monitors have said that Jordan’s government has in recent years tightened its grip on civil society and cracked down on dissent.

"There has been a slow tightening to where the spaces for … public dialogue are really restricted. The authorities need to loosen their iron grip on society. They need to allow people to freely express themselves and criticism," Adam Coogle, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch MENA, said to TNA.

Over the past year and a half, Jordanian authorities have increasingly resorted to a legal tool known as "administrative detention" to head off protests.

The practice allows individuals to be detained for a period of hours and then released without a charge, under the legal justification of preventing a crime. In practice, civil society actors have said that this is used to prevent gatherings and protests in public spaces.

"They have started arresting activists before they participate in protests or even as they leave their houses. There is a state of fear right now. They don't want anything to spark mass protests," Jeet said.

Jordan's government has been facing increasing discontent over a sputtering economy and perceptions of declining living standards.

Official numbers for unemployment stand at about a quarter of the labour force – though that number is much higher for youth and women.

There have been at least two instances of Jordanians threatening to commit mass suicide if they are not found jobs over the past year.

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For its part, the government has launched a "modernisation plan" meant to diversify Jordan's economy, particularly in the technology sector.

At the same time, it has pursued devastating neo-liberal policies such as the lifting of subsidies on key goods, such as water and electricity, to comply with the IMF's reform plan for the country.

"Subsidies add to Jordan's fiscal deficit issue and have to be removed. However, the government is not making progress on improving social safety nets or implementing structural reform," Laith al-Ajlouni, a Jordanian political economist, said to TNA.

As discontent grows over economic conditions and austerity measures, Jordan's government has increasingly turned to repression to stifle dissent.

"Instead of allowing a more open dialogue about how to move the country forward, [authorities] are shutting everything down and keeping people from talking," the deputy director of Human Rights Watch MENA said.