(Amman) – Jordanian authorities have arrested and harassed scores of Jordanians who participated in pro-Palestine protests across the country or engaged in online advocacy since October 2023, bringing charges against some of them under a new, widely criticized cybercrimes law, Human Rights Watch said today.
Since October 7, thousands of Jordanians have participated in peaceful demonstrations nationwide in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Jordanian lawyers representing detainees told Human Rights Watch that the authorities have most likely arrested hundreds for their involvement in the protests or online advocacy. Human Rights Watch documented cases in which authorities brought charges against four activists under the new cybercrimes law, including Anas al-Jamal, a prominent activist, and Ayman Sandouka, secretary of a political party.
“Jordanian authorities are trampling the right to free expression and assembly in an effort to tamp down Gaza-related activism,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Recent government assurances that the new cybercrimes law would not be used to infringe on rights crumbled in less than two months as the authorities deployed it against Jordanians to stifle their activism.”
Parliament swiftly passed the repressive cybercrimes law in August, ignoring criticism and bypassing consultation with experts or civil society. The law further undermines free speech, threatens internet users’ right to anonymity, and introduces a new authority to control social media, risking a surge in censorship. Over recent years, Jordan has witnessed a protracted shrinking of civic space, with the authorities increasingly persecuting citizens engaged in peaceful organization and political dissent, using vague and abusive laws that criminalize speech, association, and assembly.
Human Rights Watch spoke to four people who have been detained, harassed, or summoned by the General Intelligence Directorate; two relatives of four other additional people under arrest; and three lawyers involved with protest-related cases. Researchers viewed photos and videos from several protests, as well as court documents pertaining to two men’s trials.
Authorities detained al-Jamal at his roadside stall in the northern city of Irbid on November 5. A family member said that after they inquired, an official told them he had been detained and transferred to Amman for investigation under the cybercrimes law for three October tweets, one of which revolved around police blocking protests in the Jordan valley.
The family member said that a court convicted al-Jamal after a brief trial, during which his lawyers were prevented from providing an adequate defense, sentencing him to three months in jail and a 5,000 Jordanian dinars (about US$7,000) fine based on article 24 of the cybercrimes law, which criminalizes publishing without authorization names or pictures of law enforcement officials online, or new information about them that may offend or harm. Al-Jamal, his family’s breadwinner, was released on January 13 after a crowd-funding effort covered the fine, but he still faces a travel ban.
Sandouka has been held since December 18 for Facebook posts, including one mocking the government’s claim that the official stance and public opinion on Israel’s war in Gaza are aligned, his lawyer said. He was detained for a month pending investigation by the public prosecutor, then released.
However, the state security prosecutor then summoned him on charges of “incitement to oppose the political regime,” a terrorism provision under the penal code. On January 24, despite acquitting him on two charges, a separate Jordanian court convicted him of intentionally disparaging state authorities and sentenced him to three months in jail and a 5,000 Jordan dinars fine (about US$7,000). Sandouka is serving his three-month sentence while in detention, pending the state security case.
A 38-year-old activist, said that police detained her in late October, two days after she attended a protest near the al-Kalouti mosque and posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, showing police forcibly breaking up the protest. She said that authorities took her to the Criminal Investigations Unit, where an officer questioned her about her post and asked her to remove it, which she did. She was held for eight days, and the authorities refused to allow family members to provide her medication while in detention.
After an online court hearing, a judge ordered her release pending trial under the cybercrimes law, but police kept her in detention due to a summons from Amman’s governor. She said that the governor repeatedly asked her, “Is Gaza worth all of this?” He also said, “You sit in your home, you eat, drink, sleep, and go to the protest and go back home and we make this safe for you.” Following the meeting, she was finally released, but remains on trial facing charges under the cybercrimes law.
Another woman said she learned via SMS in mid-December that authorities had issued an arrest warrant against her and banned her from travel. After hiring a lawyer, who faced delays obtaining the case files, she discovered that a first hearing in her case had been in early December. She later learned that someone had sent anonymous social media screenshots of posts critical of Jordan’s relationship with Israel to the police Criminal Investigations Unit, which led to the charges. She denied making the social media posts, and a judge found her not guilty.
Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that hundreds of people are sent before judges, with many charges eventually dropped. Lawyers and activists also said that in many cases, even after the public prosecutor or a judge ordered a detainee released, Interior Ministry authorities immediately re-apprehended or kept people in custody using abusive administrative detention procedures, coercing detainees to sign pledges not to protest or incite to protest under threat of a 50,000 Jordanian dinars fine (about US$70,000).
Jordanian authorities arrested three young men leaving a protest in Amman in late October; a family member said: “I found out the next day that they had accused them of resisting police officers, inciting rioting, and disturbing public peace during an unregistered protest.” The public prosecutor ordered their release on bail a week later, but police detained them another day, when Amman’s governor’s office ordered them to sign pledges to refrain from protests and pay 150 Jordanian dinars each (about US$211) for bail. He said that a judge dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.
An online activist said that an intelligence official summoned him in November. After being called into an interrogation room, he said he briefly laughed, after which an officer responded: “If you knew what is going to happen you would not laugh.” The officer grilled him about his social media activity, including a call for a general strike in support of Gaza, and threatened him with a six-month prison sentence and 50,000 Jordanian dinars (about US$70,000) fine under the new cybercrimes law. He was released after signing a pledge that he would not attend protests or share protest-related content on social media.
A 27-year-old activist said that after attending several protests, she was summoned by an intelligence officer in early November. “The man who I went in to see was very angry. He immediately screamed at me to drag the chair in the middle of the room back to the wall. He started asking me basic questions, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was speaking comfortably and confidently, and I think that provoked him, annoyed him.”
She said that the officer grilled her about her social media activity and attendance at protests, and threatened that if she continued, she could face a 15-year prison sentence. She said she refused to stop attending protests and was then formally detained. She was released five days later after signing a pledge not to protest. She said, “The worst part of the experience for me was that no one told me what was going on, I was in the dark the entire time.”
Despite evidence of mass arrests stemming from the protests, prime minister Bisher al-Khasawneh said on November 26 that “there has been no arrest of any person for practicing the right to peaceful expression.” He added, “those detained and who remain under arrest do not exceed 24 people because they assaulted policemen, destroyed property, or tried to produce gatherings that have no relation to Gaza.”
Human Rights Watch reviewed dozens of photos and videos of street protests in Amman in October and November 2023, the vast majority of which appeared to remain peaceful. In a video of an October 27 protest near the al-Kalouti mosque in Amman’s Rabia neighborhood, several blocks away from the Israeli embassy, a group of protesters can be seen sitting and standing in front of a line of Jordanian police chanting “peaceful.” The police charged at them, firing tear gas into the crowd.
The only videos reviewed showing potential violent activity by protesters are from a protest on the night of October 17 near the Israeli embassy, which appear to show fires from improvised incendiary weapons thrown by protesters.
“Jordanian authorities should not use a regional crisis as a pretext to restrict the rights of Jordanians to express themselves peacefully,” Fakih said. “Recent cases have proven that authorities have and will continue to abuse vague provisions of the cybercrimes law.”