Jordan using gag orders and vaguely worded legislation to silence reporters

Friday, July 17, 2015
CJFE is deeply concerned by Jordan’s protracted campaign against the press through the use of counterterrorism legislation. In the most recent case, on July 8, 2015, journalist Ghazi al-Marayat was detained in prison for 15 days (Arabic) following accusations that he violated a gag order placed on the media to prevent coverage of a terror case. Al-Marayat’s detention stemmed from an article he wrote for the government-owned al-Rai newspaper that reported Jordanian security services had foiled an Iranian-backed terror plot. The article, which was also cited by numerous international media outlets, has since been removed from al-Rai’s website. Al-Marayat may also face charges of “disturbing [Jordan’s] relations with a foreign state,” vaguely worded legislation that has been used repeatedly in the country to curb critical speech about foreign rulers. Al-Marayat’s experience is not unique—at least four journalists have been detained in 2015 using Jordan’s counterterrorism law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Freelance columnist Jamal Ayyoub has been in prison since April 22 of this year for criticizing Saudi Arabian airstrikes in Yemen. Seif al-Obeidat and Hashem al-Khalidi, editor-in-chief and publisher of Saraya News, were arrested on January 28 for an article speculating on negotiations between Jordan and ISIS over the release of Muath al-Kasasbeh, a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot. These tactics have repeatedly been used by the Egyptian government, as well as others in the region, to quell critical reporting on issues of public interest. Human Rights Watch reports that several gag orders have been issued to Jordan’s media outlets in 2015, including a ban on printing photos or news published by ISIS about murdered pilot al-Kasasbeh and criticisms about the country’s military involvement in the bombing campaign against ISIS. It appears that these gag orders (Arabic) are typically first announced verbally by Jordan’s Media Commission, which oversees the Jordanian press, before written notice (Arabic) is circulated, creating confusion and fear among the press, increasing self-censorship and providing opportunities for authorities to detain journalists who may be unaware of the editorial restrictions being placed on them. Such gag orders are also clearly a flagrant violation of the right to free expression. Article 15 of Jordan’s Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and press freedom, yet this continued crackdown on the country’s media explicitly violates those guarantees. In addition to the counterterrorism law, Jordan’s Press and Publications Law has been increasingly used to ensnare journalists with its vaguely worded clauses restricting media activities. CJFE condemns the arrests of Jordanian journalists guilty of nothing more than doing their jobs and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists detained in the country. We further call on the Jordanian government to cease using gag orders and vaguely worded legislation to intimidate and silence the country’s press.
This letter of concern was sent to His Excellency Basheer F. Zoubi, Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to Canada CC: Mr. Bruno Saccomani, Ambassador of Canada to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Republic of Iraq The Honourable Robert Nicholson, P.C., Q.P., M.P., Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs

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