Two face charges for 'criticising government' in Jordan

Two face charges for 'criticising government' in Jordan
Jordanian prosecutors have charged a journalist and an academic in separate cases for peacefully expressing their opinions, says Human Rights Watch.
3 min read
24 August, 2015

Jordan has charged a newspaper editor and a university professor with what Human Rights watch describes as the peaceful expression of their opinions.

Ataf al-Jowlani, editor-in-chief of the Jordanian daily al-Sabeel was charged with cursing and insulting an official body and publishing false news for publishing an editorial on 18 August critical of the Jordanian authorities' decision to reject a shipment of gas cylinders from India.

Eyad Qunaibi, a university professor at Jordan's Applied Sciences Private University, was charged with a terrorism-related offence for writing a post on his facebook page criticising what he described as un-Islamic developments in Jordan.

"Jordan faces real threats to its security and stability, but these don't include op-eds about gas cylinders and Facebook posts that peacefully criticize the government," said Human Rights Watch's Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson.

"Jordanian authorities should stop going after peaceful critics."

Jordanian authorities sensitive to criticism

Jordanian authorities should stop going after peaceful critics
- Sarah Leah Whitson

Jowlani's article, "Gas Cylinders... Are We More Careful than the Italians?" alleged Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and others had caved in to pressure from local media by not importing the cylinders. Jordan subsequently sold the cylinders on to an Italian company at a loss.

His lawyer said he had been charged with cursing and insulting an official body under Jordan's penal code, as well as publishing false news under the Press and Publications Law.

Jawlani is one of at least six journalists and writers facing prosecution in Jordan for their writings.

Qunaibi has been charged with "undermining the political regime in the kingdom or inciting opposition to it" under article 149 of Jordan's penal code, which the law defines as a terrorism charge for writing a Facebook post under the heading "Jordan Heading toward the Abyss."

In the post, Qunaibi writes "bearded [i.e. religious] men and women who wear head scarfs are arrested and thrown to the floor as part of exercises called fighting terrorism, and this coincides with the reception of the pope of the Vatican with celebratory religious rituals."

He also reportedly criticised Jordanian officials' participation in the Paris march that followed the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, accused the director of Jordan's Standards and Metrology Organization of encouraging Jordanian farmers to grow grapes for wine production and then-Israeli President Shimon Peres' visit to Jordan in 2013 for the World Economic Forum.

Qunaibi has more than 735,000 followers on Facebook.

He was arrested in 2011 and held for 14 months for sending money to the Afghan Taliban, a charge he did not deny.

Human Rights Watch urged the council to halt application of the penal code article then being used to prosecute Qunaibi on the grounds that it was so vague it was open to political interpretation that could result in violations of freedom of expression.

Qunaibi was acquitted of that charge on appeal, but according to Human Rights Watch a family member said he was still banned from speaking in mosques.