The Jordanian intelligence agency has agreed to allow independent human rights monitoring organizations to visit prisoners at its secretive detention facility for the first time, Human Rights Watch said today.

On July 15, 2007, the agency granted representatives of Human Rights Watch and the Jordanian-based Adaleh Center and Human and Environment Observatory permission to access the facility in August and to speak to detainees there. The three organizations will carry out their visit during the second half of August and seek meetings with intelligence officials and military prosecutors from the State Security Court to discuss areas of concern.

“The General Intelligence Department’s welcome decision to allow independent monitoring of its detention and interrogation operations should improve conditions for detainees,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Ongoing and regular visits by competent and independent civil society organizations help ensure detainees are treated properly.”

In a September 2006 report, Human Rights Watch alleged that intelligence officers from the General Intelligence Department frequently detain suspects arbitrarily and mistreat them, including by prolonged solitary confinement. There are also persistent complaints about a lack of access to detainees by lawyers and family members. In a January 2007 report, the UN special rapporteur on torture found that torture is routine at the facility. Jordanian officials deny those allegations.

Prior to and immediately after publication of its report, Human Rights Watch met with the leadership of the intelligence agency to discuss its findings. The agency’s director, Maj. Gen. Muhammad al-Dhahabi, at that time extended an invitation to Human Rights Watch to visit the facility. After a meeting in June, both sides agreed on the terms of such visits, which included the participation of Jordanian representatives. The intelligence agency agreed to the participation of two Jordanian participants.

“This is a chance for independent Jordanian activists to help protect the human rights of their fellow citizens without fear of repercussions,” said Asem Raba’ba, president of the Adaleh Center, who has inspected ordinary Jordanian prisons. “It is a step ahead for civil society’s role in promoting human rights in Jordan.”

The intelligence agency previously granted visits only to organizations affiliated with the government or on the basis of a formal agreement. In 2005, the governmental National Center for Human Rights conducted its first visit to the detention facility. Since then, the center has conducted three visits. Over the past year, members of Jordanian political parties and parliamentarians from the Public Freedoms Committee of the Lower House of Parliament also visited the center. The International Committee of the Red Cross conducts visits every two weeks, but in accordance with its general mandate, reports directly to the government on its findings and does not make them public.

“Public reporting based on ongoing, regular, independent visits by local activists will give Jordan’s intelligence agency the opportunity to inspire confidence in its operations,” said Taleb al-Saqqaf, director of the Human and Environment Observatory, who also has experience in inspecting Jordanian prisons.