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Security forces block a road as teachers protest in Amman, Jordan, September 5, 2019.  © 2019 AP Photo/Omar Akour

(Amman) – Jordanian authorities stepped up arrests of protesters and political and anti-corruption activists in 2019 as protests against Jordan’s economic austerity policies increased, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. The authorities detained dozens of political activists and charged some with vague provisions of Jordanian laws used to limit free expression such as “undermining the political regime,” insulting the king, or online slander.

“Jordan increasingly closed avenues for public protests and online expression in 2019,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Jordanian officials and lawmakers should make it a priority in 2020 to remove vague criminal regulations used to curtail peaceful speech.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.

In 2019, lawmakers rejected a proposed amendment to the personal status law that would have increased the minimum marriage age from 15 to 16. In May, the parliament approved amendments to the labor law that exempted non-citizen children of Jordanian mothers from work permit requirements, but Jordan continues to discriminate against Jordanian women by not allowing them to pass their nationality to their children on par with men.

In late December 2018, the government proposed amendments to Jordan’s 2015 Electronic Crimes Law that would restrict freedom of expression with criminal penalties for posting “rumors” or “fake news” with “bad intentions” or engaging in “hate speech” online. The amendments maintain criminal penalties for online defamation but, in a positive move, would eliminate pretrial detention for this offense. Jordan’s lower house of parliament rejected the draft amendments in February 2019 and as of September they were under consideration in the upper house.

In July, security officials expelled over 200 members of the extended al-Shahin family from their home governorate, Madaba, on the basis of a local practice known as jalwa, under which security authorities can temporarily displace family members of accused murderers to deter potential revenge attacks. Members of the al-Shahin family were permitted to return to Madaba Governorate in mid-October.

Jordan hosted over 657,000 Syrian refugees and over 90,000 refugees of other nationalities in 2019, but the authorities have not allowed other Syrians to enter Jordan to seek asylum since mid-2016. Jordanian authorities did not allow aid deliveries from Jordan to tens of thousands of Syrians at a remote camp along the border. Beginning in January, Jordanian authorities prevented UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, from registering as asylum seekers people who entered the country for medical treatment, study, tourism, or work, effectively barring non-Syrians from registering and leaving many without documentation or access to services.

“By preventing those fleeing persecution in their home countries from seeking asylum, Jordan is putting its reputation as one of the last regional havens for protection at risk,” Page said.

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