(Beirut) – The criminal charges against a man who has peacefully advocated making Jordan a republic violate freedom of expression and should be dropped immediately, Human Rights Watch said today. Jordan’s military prosecutor at the State Security Court ordered the detention of and brought criminal charges against Dr. Ahmad al-Oweidi al-‘Abbadi, a prominent opponent of King Abdullah, because al-‘Abbadi peacefully argued in a media interview for making Jordan a republic rather than a monarchy.
In a separate incident reflecting an assault on free expression, an unidentified assailant stabbed Inas Musallam, a student, apparently in response to an article she wrote that was critical of a royal prince.
“Official prosecutions for peaceful expression of political views create a climate of intolerance, in which people may think it’s ok to assault someone who writes something they don’t like,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The prosecutor should drop charges against Ahmad al-‘Abbadi and instead focus on finding Inas Musallam’s attacker.”
In an interviewon January 18, 2012, with the Internet-based JordanDays media organization, which interviews prominent people and broadcasts parliamentary sessions and news conferences, al-‘Abbadi said that “[t]he republican system is coming here to Jordan, and I do not believe it will take more than two years, at most” to establish.
Al-‘Abbadi went on to describe the monarchy as an outmoded form of government not representing the wishes of the people. He did not advocate violence or specify how a change from the monarchy to a republic was to be achieved, although he predicted that retired military officials would carry out a “revolution.”
The prosecutor has charged al-‘Abbadi with “subverting the system of government in the kingdom or inciting to resist it,” a crime that article 149 of Jordan’s penal code punishes with hard labor. On January 24 the prosecutor at the military-dominated State Security Court issued a summons for Al-‘Abbadi. When he did not respond, he was arrested on February 2 and remains in detention pending a trial, ‘Umar al-‘Ulwan, his lawyer, told Human Rights Watch.
Al-‘Abbadi leads the Jordan National Movement, an opposition group that criticizes chiefly what its members see as corruption in the royal family. He served two years in prison in 2007 and 2008 for “undermin[ing] the psychology of the [Islamic] nation” following a public letter he wrote that authorities deemed defamatory to the queen.
Musallam, the student and political activist who was stabbed in a separate incident, said to the media that on the night of February 20 an unknown assailant stabbed her in the stomach with a knife, saying, “This is for his majesty the king and his highness the prince.”
Following the attack, the Public Security Directorate (PSD), Jordan’s agency for several police departments, publicly attacked Musallam’s character. Musallam had criticized Prince Hassan, a former crown prince and uncle to Abdullah, in a blog posting, following a television interview he gave on February 19. She wrote that in the interview, “His highness mocked the people and spoke mockingly of the elite of the political opposition in the kingdom.”
The Criminal Investigation Department opened an investigation immediately after the stabbing, which it confirmed, but a PSD statement two days later, on February 22, disparaged Musallam’s character instead of setting out any details of the investigation. The statement alleged she had psychological problems and conflicts with other students, and insinuated that a small amount of drugs had been found in her possession.
A fellow activist told Human Rights Watch that in fact, the drugs were found in the bathroom of the Criminal Investigation Department offices, where Musallam, who remained in the hospital for four days after the attack, had never set foot. He said his information relied on what police sources had told Musallam’s family.
In addition to claiming that there were “no ideological or political considerations” behind the attack, the February 22 PSD statement questioned the severity of Musallam’s injuries.
Musallam told Human Rights Watch she stood by her account.
Jordanians who have been protesting since January 2011 for political reform and against corruption have claimed that on repeated occasions, pro-government thugs who some claimed work in the security services have attackedthem. Several of the victims were media workers, but police have not held anyone accountable for these attacks.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a state party, requires Jordan to ensure the protection of freedom of opinion and of expression. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which provides the definitive interpretation of this treaty, has said, “The penalization of a media outlet, publishers or journalist solely for being critical of the government or the political social system espoused by the government can never be considered to be a necessary restriction of freedom of expression.”
“In 2011 the government proposed a law against character assassination, but here we see the police publicly disparaging the victim of an apparent attack, when actually investigating the crime could mean acknowledging the right to criticize a member of the royal family,” Wilcke said.