High-level Jordanian officials have used a recent inquiry into the legality of a Jordanian online magazine to issue statements against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. By doing so, they are exploiting the inquiry to target the already-marginalized LGBT community in Jordan.
It all began with a July request from an Islamist member of parliament, Dima Tahboub, to the Jordanian Media Commission to open an inquiry into the website My.Kali, a Jordanian queer-inclusive social affairs online magazine published since 2007. The commission concluded that same month that the magazine had violated the Press and Publication Law and issued instructions to block access to its website in Jordan.
Under the Press and Publication law, online publications have been required to register with and obtain a license from the Jordanian Media Commission since 2012. The law defines online publications subject to the licensing requirement as those that “engage in publication of news, investigations, articles, or comments that have to do with the internal or external affairs of the kingdom.” These vague provisions allow authorities to arbitrarily use the law to limit free expression.
To make matters worse, authorities’ responses stoked the widespread animus against LGBT people in Jordan. In response to Tahboub’s inquiry, which remains private, the ministers of justice and interior wrote separate official letters to the minister of political and parliamentary affairs declaring their broad intolerance of LGBT people and making it clear that the government would not defend the rights of LGBT Jordanians.
In his letter, the interior minister, Ghaleb al-Zu’bi, wrote, “Jordan has not and will never endorse any charter or protocol acknowledging homosexuals—known as the LGBT community—or granting them any rights as it is considered a deviation from Islamic law and Jordanian constitution.”
Although Jordan decriminalized same-sex behavior in 1951, the justice minister, Dr. Awad Al-Mashagbeh, offered similar remarks, contending that LGBT people’s “sexual deviance violates...the state’s general system and decency.”
What’s more, all of this—Tahboub’s inquiry, the commission’s review, the ministers’ letters—was completely unnecessary. The commission had blocked My.Kali since July 2016! It was unclear why Tahboub sought to block access to a site that was already closed or why the commission issued a new order. Whatever their intentions were in reigniting an inquiry in July 2017, the result was a wave of negative attention toward My.Kali and the LGBT community generally.
It is for this exact reason that Khalid Abdel-Hadi, founder and creative director of My.Kali, had tried his best to keep the commission’s censorship of the magazine quiet back in 2016.
This was not the first time Jordanian authorities had stoked moral panic at the expense of LGBT people. In 2014, authorities arrested 10 LGBT people for holding a party in east Amman, all of whom were released soon after. In 2015, outrage spread in Jordan when the US ambassador attended an LGBT event organized by My.Kali and LGBT activists. And in both 2016 and 2017, Jordan banned Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band with an openly gay lead singer, from performing in Jordan.
This time around, not only have the vague provisions of the Press and Publication Law allowed Jordan to threaten free expression, they have also opened the door for authorities to limit the rights of LGBT people in Jordan. Rather than responding to Tahboub by unequivocally stating their support for the fundamental rights of all Jordanians, the ministers of justice and interior chose to exploit her public request for censorship of My.Kali as an opportunity to target Jordan’s LGBT community.
Rather than let such noxious statements go unchallenged, Jordan’s leaders should ensure that ministers and other authorities uphold their international human rights obligations for everyone, including LGBT people.