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Jordan’s military prosecutor should halt the politically motivated prosecution of government critic Ahmad al-Oweidi al-‘Abbadi, Human Rights Watch said today. Jordan is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on Friday, September 28.

“The only reason al-‘Abbadi languishes in jail waiting for his court verdict is that he’s a government opponent exercising his right to free speech,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division.

Al-‘Abbadi, a former parliamentarian and head of the Jordan National Movement, which describes itself as a pro-democracy organization, has been held without bail since he was arrested on May 2, 2007 on charges of belonging to an unlawful group and “disseminating ... news he knows to be false or exaggerated which undermine the psychology of the [Islamic] nation.” This followed the publication of an open letter to US Senator Harry Reid, alleging corruption on the part of Minister of Interior Eid al-Fayez, on the movement’s website.

Human Rights Watch received a copy of the letter, which was one of several similar statements or documents published since October 2006 by the Jordan National Movement which have attracted threats. For example, following a March 3, 2007 statement in which the Movement urged US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cancel King Abdullah’s address to the joint houses of Congress, the Jordanian authorities allegedly made threats to al-‘Abbadi and his family, including harassment by the intelligence department, threats to cut off the university education of al-‘Abbadi’s children abroad, and a warning to al-‘Abbadi to stop his activities in Jordan. Under Jordanian law, since the Jordan National Movement is not specifically licensed, it is therefore illegal.

Al-‘Abbadi’s trial in the military-dominated State Security Court is set to conclude by October 4. So far in the trial, the only offense al-‘Abbadi has been alleged to have committed is the publication of the letter, which does not espouse violence or make any threats to public security or safety.

Jordan’s prime minister may refer any case for prosecution at the State Security Court, whose judges he appoints based on recommendations by the minister of justice and the chief of staff of the armed forces. The State Security Court has denied al-‘Abbadi bail without providing a reason. He is charged for misdemeanors, which under Jordanian law do not require the defendant’s pre-trial detention.

Under Jordanian law, requests for bail are the only way to challenge the lawfulness of one’s detention, a fundamental right of all detainees guaranteed by Article 9.4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a party.

“In Jordan there is a nefarious mix of outdated laws criminalizing free speech and prosecutors willing to use them again and again to silence regime critics,” Whitson said.

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