General: Jordan: Crackdown on Jordanian Journalists Persists: Release Adnan Al-Rousan
Freedom of expression and speech remains limited in Jordan as it is illegal to criticize the King, governmental officials, and institutions making it difficult for journalists to report on current events. Along with the recent amendment to Article 225 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which increased the punishment for journalists that publish news on criminal investigations and/or secret trials before their official announcement, the Cybercrime Law (Article 11) has made it easy for authorities to arrest journalists criticizing the King or government. The Cybercrime Prevention Law criminalises libel and slander with a prison sentence of three months. This law continues to target hundreds of political activists, journalists, and citizens for expressing their political views on their personal social media accounts.
The most recent arrest of the prominent Jordanian columnist, Adnan Al-Rousan, is a prime example of the crackdown on journalists charged under the Cybercrime Law. He used his Facebook page, which has 37,000 followers, to regularly post his views regarding Jordanian politics and news.
The following Facebook post was published on his page: “The security services arrested the Jordanian writer Adnan Al-Rousan from his home today 8-15-2022 at 9:15 am, by seven people, including two wearing military uniforms, without reporting the charges against him. Noting that the body that arrested him and who issued the decision has not been reported.”
The Public Prosecutor stated that he had broken the Cybercrime Law by writing articles that were “insulting to Jordan” and “offensive to the national approach and fabric, and insulting the cohesion of Jordanian society and state institutions.” Al-Rousan’s family announced that he was detained at Marka prison for one week and now is facing trial for offenses under the Cybercrime Law.
The Cybercrime Law has led to dozens of journalists being arrested in Jordan this year and continues to be used as a tool by the government to repress freedom of expression. During the first week of March, journalists Taghreed Risheq and Daoud Kuttab were detained at the Amman airport on 06 March and 08 March 2022 respectively due to defamation complaints made against them falling under the Cyber Security Law. Risheq was released on bail later that day, while Kuttab was released on the same day but ordered to attend a court in the Jordanian capital where a judge issued a temporary suspension of his arrest order. No further updates have released at this time. These cases along with Al-Rousan demonstrate that journalists can be arrested anywhere for anything that is viewed as ‘defamation’ which is not a positive sign for a country that claims it wants to reform.
The Cybercrime Law was originally drafted to address vulnerabilities within Jordan’s cybersecurity back in 2019, with counter-terrorism measures included to justify the law’s inception. Yet, the Cybercrime Law has essentially turned into a mechanism to hunt down journalists who speak out against the government, as is the case with Adnan Al-Rousan. The Cybercrime Law continues to be used to repress the truth about politics from local Jordanians, and implements fear for Internet activists who want to speak out against injustice. According to Monitor, at least 150 activists were arrested in March 2022. Many of those detained were arrested for merely planning protests or protesting local election results. OHCHR notes that police reportedly stormed the homes of some of these activists during the night and in some cases, were accompanied by counter-terrorism security forces.
The Jordanian government continues to lack accountability for detaining journalists and activists by simply using the Cybercrime Law to excuse its actions. Journalists like Adnan Al-Rousan should not be detained, especially for posting criticisms on their personal social media accounts
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on authorities in Jordan, including the government, to:
- Immediately release Adnan Al-Rousan and all other journalists/activists that have been falsely incriminated and imprisoned under the Cybercrime Prevention Law and Article 225;
- Urgently issue legislation that protects public freedoms and, in particular, freedom of expression and freedom of the press in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, and in line with international legal standards and covenants;
- Amend or repeal the Cybercrime Prevention Law to enhance freedom of expression and protect journalists and Internet activists;
- Put an end to targeting human rights defenders, including journalists and Internet activists or whoever engages in peaceful human rights actions, writing, or speeches;
- Repeal prison sentencing for human rights defenders including journalists and other prisoners of conscience;
- Ensure that all human rights defenders, including journalists, bloggers, and Internet activists in Jordan, are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals and in a manner free from all restrictions, including judicial harassment and the persecution of their families.