The Jordanian government should immediately drop national security charges against Jamil Abu Bakr for posting articles written by parliamentarians on an opposition party website more than a year ago, Human Rights Watch said today.
Abu Bakr, the editor of the party’s website, told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors at the state security court on January 5 charged him with “belittling the dignity of the Jordanian state.” The charge refers to articles he posted in December 2004 on the website of the Islamic Action Front, a legal political party that has 17 members in the lower house of parliament. The articles, which criticized favoritism in the appointment of senior government officials, were written by two IAF parliamentarians, `Azzam al-Hunaidi and `Ali Abu Sukkar.
In July 2005, senior government officials in Amman told Human Rights Watch that the authorities would eliminate press censorship and not apply articles of Jordan’s Penal Code that criminalize “insults” to the king, or “slander” of government officials or institutions. The state security court tries most of these offenses criminalizing free speech.
“Jordan has reverted to its old habit of silencing critics with repressive laws,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “Charging Abu Bakr in a state security court does far more harm to Jordan’s reputation than anything he may have posted on the Internet.”
In early 2005, a civilian court dismissed charges against Abu Bakr stemming from the December 2004 posting. Under Article 23 of Jordan’s Press and Publications law of 1999, an editor-in-chief is legally responsible for the content of a publication. Unlike Abu Bakr, who is also deputy secretary general of the IAF, the authors of the articles enjoy parliamentary immunity.
While civilian courts are responsible for handling press law violations, the state security court has jurisdiction over alleged crimes against the internal or external security of the state, including those against “the dignity of the state and national consciousness.” The prime minister appoints the court’s judges, and the military chief of staff appoints its prosecutors. Although the court follows civilian criminal procedure, its lack of independence has given rise to charges of politically motivated prosecutions.
In the past, Jordanian governments resorted to the state security court to prosecute political opponents who had publicly expressed their views. In June 2005, the court cleared a former member of parliament, Riyadh al-Nuwaisa, of charges of “insulting the king” during a December 2004 lecture.
“It’s troubling that Jordan feels compelled to invoke national security laws to prosecute legitimate political activities,” Whitson said.