General: Jordan: Mass protests result in arrests of activists of 24 March Movement

04.04.21

On the tenth anniversary of the 24 March sit-in, Jordanian cities witnessed a wave of widespread protests by groups identifying as the "24 March Movement", calling on the Jordanian government to undertake broad constitutional reforms, foremost of which is amending the constitution and electing a government by the people.

Various regions of the country have been subject to intense tightening of security and the closure of some streets after the United Jordanian Movement (the Alliance of Popular Movements) called for the commemoration of 24 March with dozens of sit-ins in different cities under the slogan "There is a nation here" to demand a set of reforms. Most notably, they say, "The people are the source of the authorities, a constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary government, fighting the corrupt, and amending the election law."

The creation of the 24 March Movement goes back to 2011, when a group of young people held an open sit-in in the centre of the capital Amman, on the same day to demand a number of reforms and the elimination of corruption.

The Jordanian security forces arrested 200 people, in a pre-emptive step before 24 March 2021, to thwart the peaceful gatherings that they had called for. Then they arrested nearly 100 others on their way to participate in peaceful gatherings that were suppressed by the security forces and prevented by police from spreading in various areas. Dozens of protesters have been charged with illegal gathering, violating defense orders, and disturbing the public's well-being.

According to the activists, "The security forces prevented them from reaching the scheduled sit-in places, and arrested many of the participants, especially in Gamal Abdel Nasser Square (Al-Dakhliya Roundabout) in the heart of Amman, and in the governorates of Irbid and Mafraq after their activities ended."

It is noteworthy that the arrests of citizens who peacefully express their views is contrary to a right guaranteed by the Jordanian constitution and guaranteed by relevant international covenants. Article 15 of the Jordanian constitution stipulates, "The state guarantees freedom of opinion, and every Jordanian has the right to freely express his opinion in speech and writing. Photography and other means of expression, provided that it does not go beyond the limits of the law."

Likewise, Article (19) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Jordan ratified in 2006, states, "1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

According to reliable local reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), protesters are detained in prisons that do not meet proper health standards, at a time when the Jordanian Ministry of Health announced, on 31 March 2021, that it had recorded 111 new deaths due to the Covid-19 virus, in the largest daily toll since the outbreak of the pandemic a year ago. The detainees were also not allowed to have lawyers or have regular contact with their families. Violence was used to arrest some of them.

On 28 March 2021, the Public Prosecutor in the city of Irbid, located 71 kilometers north of Amman, approved the bail requests submitted by the families of detainees in Bab Al-Hawa Prison as a result of their participation in the activities of 24 March 2021. According to their families, the Public Prosecutor approved the bail requests submitted by them individually, at a value of 5,000 Jordanian Dinars (approx. USD$7050) for each bail request.

These events come amid a wave of angry protests that have been taking place in several Jordanian governorates, since mid-March 2021, following the tragedy that took place in a government hospital and resulted in seven deaths. Protesters demanded the dismissal of the government, the dissolution of the Parliament, and the repeal of the Defense Law.

On 03 April 2021, the Magistrate’s Court in Amman began the trial of 13 people accused of causing the death of seven patients with Covid-19, as a result of the depletion of oxygen stocks in the Hussain Governmental Hospital in the city of Salt where they were being treated.

On the same day, on 03 April 2021, media reports confirmed a number of high-level arrests that include Bassem Awadallah, a former finance minister, and Sharif Hassan Bin Zaid, a royal, as part of an alleged coup plot.

Also, on 03 April 2021, the former crown prince of Jordan said in a video that he has been placed under house arrest as part of a crackdown on critics of the government. He accused the country’s leaders of corruption, incompetence, and harassment.

GCHR calls on the Jordanian authorities to release all detainees arrested for calling for demonstrations or arrested during peaceful demonstrations, and respect public freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly.