General: Jordan: Government should respect freedom of association & release all detainees including members of the Teachers’ Syndicate

21.08.20

On 25 July 2020, the Jordanian judiciary suspended the operations of the Jordan Teachers’ Syndicate (JTS) and closed its branches in all twelve governorates for a period of two years. In addition, the General Prosecutor of the capital Amman, Hassan Al-Abdallat, issued a decision to cease the work of the members of the Syndicate Council, the members of the Central Committee and the branch bodies, and ordered the formation of a temporary governmental committee to manage the JTS. This was followed by the arrest of all members of the Syndicate Council and many JTS leaders (including 13 members, and 15 detainees from among heads of branches, secretaries, and members of a Central Committee of the Syndicate), who are now on an open hunger strike.  

The Public Prosecution issued summonses to interrogate the teachers about the charges against them, including charging the acting head of the Teachers Syndicate, Nasser Al-Nawasrah, with incitement due to a speech he gave on 22 July 2020 in which he criticised Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz. In addition, other charges were directed at all detained JTS members related to alleged financial and administration misconduct.  

The roots of this dispute date back to September 2019 when the syndicate’s 100,000 members went on strike, leading to a month-long closure of schools in one of Jordan’s longest strikes. The strike only ended in October 2019 after the government promised a 50 percent raise in teachers’ salaries in 2020. Recently, JTS leaders accused the government of failing to honour the deal, based on the justification that the economic hardship of the Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) now make it unaffordable.

On 29 July 2020, the security forces arrested dozens of teachers who demonstrated in protest against the arrests and closures, near the Fourth Circle, where the Prime Ministry compound is located in Amman. Dozens of photos and videos of members of the security forces were circulated on social media networks while they were arresting demonstrators and trying to prevent them from reaching the Prime Ministry compound. Any attempt to gather was met with dispersal by the security forces on the pretext of applying the defense order related to preventing gatherings, which prohibits the gathering of more than 20 people.

Some of the demonstrators who attended the sit-in stated that when they were asked to abide by the defense order related to the gatherings, they distributed themselves into small groups of less than 20 people, and despite this they were dispersed by the security forces. Hundreds of participants were arrested and released without signing any pledge or bail after the sit-in ended.

Moreover, the protesters complained about the poor Internet service in the vicinity of the Fourth Circle, especially the live streaming service via Facebook, and many of them needed to use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in order to broadcast what is happening. Meanwhile, NetBlocks confirmed that it had conducted tests on the Internet in Jordan, and found that a number of Internet Service Providers in Jordan had blocked Facebook's live streaming servers.

On 31 July 2020, the attorney of the JTS, Bassam Freihat, revealed the arbitrary and harsh security measures to which Nasser Al-Nawasrah and the rest of the Syndicate Council were subjected upon arrest. They were detained in underground rooms and some of them were handcuffed during their arrest. Al-Nawasrah, who suffers from a heart condition and needs special attention, and two others who suffer from chronic diseases were denied medication and treatment.

Meanwhile, the rest of Jordan’s Governorates witnessed many sit-ins to protest against the violations and repression that took place during the sit-in in Amman’s Fourth Circle, calling on the government to release all detainees and meet their demands. Violent clashes took place between the demonstrators and the riot police, which are forces affiliated with the Ministry of the Interior, following the days of protests due to the teachers' crisis. One of the videos showed that security personnel in civilian clothes attacked a woman teacher at the sit-in in Irbid Governorate because she was filming and documenting the protest.

In the Governorate of Ajloun, human rights activist Moaz Wahsheh, Vice President of the Al-Sindyan Association for Political Development, Democracy and Human Rights, was administratively arrested by the Governor of Ajloun on the grounds that he refused to sign a pledge not to participate and call for protests that support the cause of Jordanian teachers.

Wahsheh sent a letter to his family and colleagues from Bab Al-Hawa prison, stating: "I was arrested without any charge by the Governor of Ajloun because I refused to sign a pledge and a judicial guarantee that deprives me of my constitutional right to express my opinion by the peaceful means guaranteed by the Jordanian constitution. I refused to sign and I will refuse any signature that deprives me of my constitutional right even if I am executed. I am continuing my hunger strike, and I was transferred on Friday evening to Princess Basma Hospital due to my unsatisfactory health condition because I have been on hunger strike for five days.

I will continue the hunger strike and I advise you not to make any concessions in exchange for my release, and my freedom is a right guaranteed by the Jordanian constitution. Abandoning it is out of the question, regardless of the pressures, as Jordan was born with fire, and whoever is born with fire does not burn."

In Jerash Governorate, 10 teachers were arrested prior to and during the protest on 19 August 2020, in opposition to the government's policy of arresting activists and teachers, gagging people, and harassing protesters.

Reliable press reports have confirmed that the number of detainees across the country has reached 1,000, including syndicate members, teachers, activists, and peaceful demonstrators.

In an arbitrary measure that restricts freedom of the press, the Public Prosecutor decided to prohibit publication, circulation and comment in all media outlets and social media about these pending cases, with the exception of the official authorities who are authorised to speak about the cases. In turn, the official media ignored the sit-in and the events accompanying it. Journalists were prevented from reporting, and were even chased, arrested, and beaten. However, this did not stop pro-teacher internet activists from launching the hashtag on social media platforms #FreeTheTeachers.

These strict and oppressive measures against a specific group in society, namely teachers, and their supporters contradict the Jordanian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression. These measures also contradict the message of King Abdullah that the government should implement the Defense Order Law in the narrowest scope and protect Jordanians' political and civil freedoms including the right to free expression.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) condemns in the strongest terms all the arbitrary measures taken by the Jordanian authorities against the Jordan Teachers’ Syndicate and declares its full solidarity with the JTS. The Jordanian government should immediately and unconditionally release all detained trade unionists, teachers, activists, and peaceful protesters. The Teachers Syndicate and all its branches must be fully reinstated and its administrative bodies including the Syndicate Council, the Central Authority and the branch bodies should be fully restored. The duty of the government is to protect trade union work and not fight it with arbitrary decisions that violate the constitution and human rights principles.