On August 22, 2001 the appointed government of Prime Minister Ali Abu al-Raghib issued temporary Law No. 45 on Public Gatherings, which severely restricts the right to peaceful assembly. It introduced the law several days after the High Court of Justice ruled that the governor of Amman had acted unlawfully when he prohibited a public demonstration organized by the Islamic Action Front (IAF) because such demonstrations did not require approval by the authorities.1
The government introduced the law as a temporary lawwhich the constitution permits only in times of necessitybecause it did not need parliamentary approval to come into force.2 King Abdullah had dissolved the parliament two months prior, in June 2001, and postponed scheduled elections for the next two years. When a new parliament came to power in 2003, however, it ratified the temporary law of 2001 as Law No. 7 of 2004, with only minor changes.3
The new law replaced the older and relatively permissive Law No. 60 of 1953 on Public Gatherings, which largely provided for the constitutional right of Jordanians to hold meetings within the limits of the law.4 The new law reversed the positive right to hold gatherings and prohibited any gathering that did not fulfill the laws stipulations.5
Unlike the 1953 law, which required only notification of the authorities, under the new law, organizers of a public meeting or demonstration now had to obtain advance, written approval from the authorities.6 Where previously notification was required only 48 hours in advance, now organizers had to submit a request for approval 72 hours before the gathering.
Where previously all those in Jordan had the right to hold public meetings, now only Jordaniansbut not necessarily foreign residents or visitorshad the right to hold meetings.
Where the old law defined a public gathering as any meeting which persons called for to discuss political matters, the new law gave a much broader definition of a public gathering as a gathering which is held to discuss a matter of public interest.7 The new law also included demonstrations as well as any other public gatherings in its definition which can be interpreted to include any type of meeting. The law does not define the number of persons necessary to make a meeting a public gathering, nor does it specify whether a public gathering must necessarily be open to the public or can be by invitation only, and whether it covers meetings in private locations, including hired venues.
Under the new law, officials have unchecked authority to deny approval to requests for public gatherings, even if all conditions are properly fulfilled, such as submitting 72 hours in advance a request that specifies the time, place, and purpose of the event and providing the addresses and signatures of the organizers. The authorities do not have to provide any reason for their refusal. A simple no will do.8 Should the authorities agree to allow the gathering, they can still issue conditions to which the organizers must keep under penalty of the law.9
In February 2006, Ammans governor granted the IAF permission to hold a demonstration protesting the publication in European newspapers of cartoons deemed offensive to the Prophet Muhammad, but the governor prohibited the raising of any flag in the march other than Jordanian flags, citing his authority under the Law on Public Gatherings.10 The authorities alone decide if a gathering has gone beyond the bounds of the purpose specified in the organizers request. Such a determination allows them to disband the gathering.11
In June 2006, the government published in the Official Gazette the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), giving it the force of law.12 Article 21 of the ICCPR provides that No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right [to peaceful assembly] other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.13
International law requires that the restrictions specified in Article 21 be interpreted narrowly. For example, terms such as national security and public safety refer to situations involving an immediate and violent threat to the nation. The government may impose restrictions only if they are prescribed by existing legislation and meet the standard of being necessary in a democratic society. This implies that the limitation must respond to a pressing public need and be oriented along the basic democratic values of pluralism and tolerance.
The UN Human Rights Committee, the international body of experts that monitors state compliance with the ICCPR, has repeatedly highlighted the importance of proportionality for necessary restrictions.14 In applying a limitation, a government should use no more restrictive means than is absolutely required. The Human Rights Committee has ruled in favor of the right to association where the government had charged those assembled with conducting an illegal demonstration.15
The Jordanian government selectively applies the Law on Public Gatherings to prevent its critics from publicly assembling. In contrast, meetings sponsored by the government do not encounter difficulties obtaining permission. In addition, when high-level foreign visitors come to Jordan, the government allows meetings and demonstrations critical of its policies, if only to demonstrate its openness.16
On October 26, 2007 the governor of Amman denied the NGO, The New Jordan (al-Urdun al-Jadid), permission to hold a workshop the following day in the Jerusalem International Hotel on the role of civil society in monitoring Jordans parliamentary elections, scheduled for November 20, 2007.17 The governor reversed his decision on the same day, but due to the confusion the workshop had to be cancelled, Hani al-Hourani, the director of The New Jordan, told Human Rights Watch.18 Hourani added that this was the fourth time in two months that the governor had denied permission for such a workshop. On October 21, Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit had announced in a television interview that Jordan would allow independent election monitors.19
When Jordan hosted the third Forum for the Future in late November 2006, the Foreign Ministry (with European Union support) financed a group of local NGOs to organize a parallel conference on Middle Eastern non-governmental affairs. At the same time, another group of Jordanian NGOs, considering the parallel NGO conference too close to the government, applied for permission to hold their own conference. In a letter dated November 20, 2006, Ammans governor, Dr. Sad al-Wadi al-Manasir, denied the request, which the Arab Organization for Human Rights (Jordan) had submitted six days earlier. He did not specify the reasons for denying permission to hold this meeting in one of Ammans hotels. On November 26, 2006, the Arab Organization for Human Rights asked the governor to reconsider, pointing out that the parallel NGO conference had already received permission to hold its meeting in the same hotel a few days earlier, with all expenses paid by the state. The governor reversed his earlier denial and gave the independent NGOs his approval on the same day.
Human Rights Watchs Middle East and North Africa Division planned to hold its annual regional retreat in Amman from June 26-28, 2007. After having agreed with a local hotel on the facilities for organizing the non-public meeting for Human Rights Watch employees and selected outside experts, the hotel manager informed us that we would need the Amman governors permission. On June 19, Human Rights Watch submitted its request to the governor. On June 20, Husam al-Shurafa from the governorate called to ask for the names of all attendees, although the law does not require that. Human Rights Watch made three trips to the governorate, but had not obtained permission by the morning of June 24, 48 hours before the scheduled start of the retreat. Article 5a of Law No.7 of 2004 on Public Gatherings obliges the authorities to give permission or to reject the requested gathering at least 48 hours before the scheduled time of holding the meeting.20 The deputy governor, Dr. Khalid al-`Armuti, gave permission later on June 24, after a personal meeting with Human Rights Watch in which we informed him of scheduled meetings with the prime minister, the chief of intelligence, and the director of the kings office on June 25. Throughout the three-day retreat, hotel employees noted down the names of HRW employees and visitors and prepared a large envelope of files about the meeting for the General Intelligence Department.
On several occasions, the government has denied permission for obviously peaceful gatherings. On July 5, 2007 the deputy governor of Amman, Dr. Khalid al-`Armuti, denied approval for a conference, scheduled to begin on July 7, that the `Afaf charity was planning to hold under the title The Family is a Bastion for Values and Identity. Government officials were scheduled to attend and present papers.21 The president of `Afaf, `Abd al-Latif `Arabiyat, is a three-time president of Jordans lower house of parliament on whom the late King Hussein bestowed the rank of minister. The denial of permission likely related to his former role as head of the Shura Council of the opposition Islamic Action Front.
In June 2007, the Silwad Society, a local NGO, invited the minister of social development to a meeting with 100 NGOs to discuss recent events at the General Union of Voluntary Societies (GUVS), an NGO umbrella group, whose administration the government had suspended (see below). Though the government had given permission for the meeting, an official in the Ministry of Social Development telephoned Silwads director the night before the meeting to deny permission on the Ministers authority.22 At a scheduled meeting of members of GUVS from Amman governorate in late April or early May 2007 at Mutamat ibn `Abbad Society, for which they obtained permission from the governor, police entered the building shortly after it had begun and disbanded it. An official in the Ministry of Social Development overstepping its legal authority had previously informed GUVS-Amman that they have no permission to hold a meeting at Silwan Society, after which they decided to transfer the meeting to Mutamat ibn `Abbad Society.23
On May 28, 2007 the authorities denied permission to hold a June 8 public celebration of the life of the former supreme guide of Jordans Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Abd al-Rahman Khalifa, who died in November 2006. His son, Majid Khalifa, a former parliamentarian and minister,24 and Khalid Husain, (Amin al-Sirr al-`Amm) Secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood, had submitted the petition on May 6.25
Jordanian authorities misuse the Law on Public Gatherings to deny the right to assembly in peaceful, public demonstrations. While occasional demonstrations are permitted, government critics are often unable to express their opinions in peaceful, public assembly.
In September 2007, the IAF requested permission to hold a demonstration in front of the office of the Prime Minister building to protest the continued detention without trial by the General Intelligence Department of seven of their members. Ammans governor denied permission, forcing the party members to protest in private space just in front of their party headquarters on September 8.26
In June 2007, the governor of Balqa denied the IAF permission to hold a demonstration marking the 40th anniversary of Israels occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The IAF has open sympathies for Hamas, the party of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya until his formal ouster on June 14. At the same time, the Balqa governor granted permission to a group closer to Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas, which is supported by the Jordanian government.27
On June 23, the newly formed student coalition Dhabahtuna (You Have Butchered Us) decided to protest in front of the Prime Ministry against a hike in student fees and a new disciplinary regulation of the University of Jordan, which provides for the expulsion of any student participating in acts of violence, rioting or fights inside or outside the university.28 Security forces arriving on the scene dispersed the peaceful gathering of a few dozen students after a few minutes. The governor had denied Dhabahtuna permission to hold the demonstration a few weeks earlier.29
In a move seemingly stifling all promises of democratic reform in Jordan, Ammans governor in May 2007 denied permission to a planned demonstration by 28 opposition parties against the proposed new Law on Political Parties, which would drastically change membership requirements that smaller parties feared would spell their demise.30
The governor of Amman denied the IAF permission to hold a rally on September 21, 2006 to protest remarks Pope Benedict XVI had recently made about Islamic history.31 In September 2004, Ammans governor denied permission to hold a womens protest, organized by the IAF, in solidarity with womens right to wear the Islamic headscarf in France. At the same time, others were reportedly demonstrating freely in front of the French embassy in Amman in solidarity with French journalists kidnapped in Iraq.32
It is not only the Islamists who bear the consequences of having their right to peaceful protest denied. The IAF is by far the largest and most effective opposition party, but attempts by smaller parties to hold rallies have equally met with official refusal. In July 2006, Ammans governor denied the Unity Party (Hizb al-Wihda) permission to hold an artistic memorial on the 37th anniversary of the death of the literary figure Ghassan Kanafani.33 In March 2006, the governor declared illegal a gathering that the opposition parties had planned in front of parliament to protest raises in state-controlled prices because the parties had submitted their request 48 hours, not 72 hours in advance, as required under the law. Rather than considering whether the shorter time span still allowed for the necessary traffic, security or other measures to be taken, al-Manasir told radio station Amman Net that the protest will be a waste of time, because the parties have met the prime minister and explained to him their point of view about the rise of prices of petroleum products.34 The opposition parties had already submitted a timely petition to the governor for a similar protest ten days earlier, but were denied permission. In 2005, Ammans governor reversed his earlier written permission to allow a demonstration on the occasion of the anniversary of the Battle of Karama between Israel and the Jordanian army and Palestinians in 1968, which the nine political parties of the National Movement were organizing for March 27, 2005.35
1 Yahya Shukkeir, The Most Important Observations on the Temporary Law on Public Gatherings (ابرز الملاحئات على قانون الاجتماعات العامة المؤقت), al-Sabeel Weekly Newspaper, August 14, 2003, https://www.assabeel.info/inside/article.asp?newsid=3949§ion=0 (accessed September 24, 2007).
2 Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Art. 94, 1952. The cabinet may issue temporary laws covering matters which require necessary measures which admit of no delay.
3 The 2004 law affirms the right to hold public meetings, whereas the 2001 temporary law prohibits any meeting unless it complies with the law; the 2004 law gives the executive until 48 hours before meeting to allow/disallow the request, whereas the 2001 law required a response within 24 hours of the presentation of the request; the 2004 law reduces maximum prison term for violating the law from six to three months, and the minimum fine from 500 to 200 Dinars.
4 Constitution, Art.16 (i).
5 Temporary Law No. 45 of 2001, art.3a. The 2004 law reverses this general prohibition and affirms the right to hold public meetings.
6 See Law No.60 of 1953, art. 3, and Law No.7 of 2004, art.3.
7 See Law No.60 of 1953, art. 2, and Law No.7 of 2004, art.2.
8 Law No.7 of 2004, art. 5a.
9 Law No.7 of 2004, art. 5b and 5c.
10 Governor of the Capital Agrees to a Demonstration by the Islamic Action Front (محافظ العاصمة يوافق على مسيرة لحزب جبهة العمل الإسلامي), al-Sabeel weekly newspaper, February 8, 2006, http://www.assabeel.info/inside/article.asp?newsid=12107§ion=0 (accessed November 28, 2007).
11 Law No.7 of 2004, art. 7.
12 Under Jordanian law, laws become effective only after publication in the Official Gazette.
13 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, Art. 21. Jordan ratified the ICCPR in 1976.
The right to freedom of assembly is recognized in other international instruments. The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, states in article 5 that all people have the right to assemble peacefully, to form, join or participate in NGOs, and to communicate with NGOs. Article 6 states that all individuals have the right to know, seek, or obtain information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the right to freely publish, discuss or otherwise impart such information, knowledge, and views. Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, G.A.res53/144, annex, 53 U.N. GAOR Supp., U.N.Doc. A/RES/53/144 (1999).
14 The U.N. Human Rights Committee, see for example Vladimir Petrovich Laptesevich v. Belarus. Communication 780/1997 of the Human Rights Committee.
15 The 1987 case against Finland involved an unannounced, peaceful gathering of around 20 persons protesting a foreign head of states visit with a banner and their presence outside the Finnish presidential palace. The Human Rights Committee held that such a gathering was not a demonstration and thus not subject to the restrictions of notification under Finnish law. By taking down the banner and interrogating the organizer, the government had violated the right to peaceful assembly. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Selected Decisions of the Human Rights Committee under The Optional Protocol, vol.5, (United Nations: New York and Geneva 2005), pp.55-61 (Communication No.412/1990 Auli Kivenmaa vs. Finland).
16 For example, on November 29, 2006, a sizeable demonstration against US President George W. Bushs visit to Jordan took place in Amman. Nur al-Amd, Pro-Government Parties Protest Against Bush Visit (أحزاب "الموالاة" تعتصم احتجاجا على زيارة بوش), radio Amman Net Website, November 29, 2006, http://ammannet.net/look/print.tpl?IdLanguage=18&IdPublication=3&NrArticle=10825&NrIssue=5&NrSection=1 accessed September 25, 2007).
17 Muhammad al-Tarawneh, Governor of the Capital Prohibits Workshop on Elections [محافظ العاصمة يمنع ورشة عمل حول الانتخبات], al-Ghad newspaper, October 27, 2007.
18 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Hani al-Hourani, director of The New Jordan, Amman, October 30, 2007.
19 Mohammad Ben Hussein, NGOs gearing up for parliamentary elections, Jordan Times, October 21, 2007.
20 Law No.7 of 2004 on Public Gatherings, art.5a.
21 Amin Fadilat, Ministry of Interior Prohibits Conference to Strengthen the Role of the Family in Strengthening Morals and Values!! (وزارة الداخلية تمنع مؤتمرا لتعزيز دور الأسرة في تعزيز الأخلاق والقيم) al-Sabeel Weekly Newspaper, July 9, 2007.
22 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Abdullah al-Khatib, currently suspended president of the General Union of Voluntary Societies, Amman, June 28, 2007.
23 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Abdullah al-Khatib, currently suspended president of the General Union of Voluntary Societies, Amman, June 28, 2007.
24 Human Rights Watch interview with Badi Rafayia, head of the Committee Against Normalization [with Israel], Amman, June 16, 2007. See also: Hilmi al-Asmar, Is the Islamic Movement Headed for Civil Disobedience (هل تتجه الحركة الاسلامية إلى العصيان المدني؟), July 11, 2007, http://helmialasmar.maktoobblog.com/?post=404140 (accessed September 24, 2007).
25 Muslim Brotherhood, News of the Group: The Governor of the Capital Rejects the Petition to Hold a Celebration of the Death of Muhammad Abdullah Khalifa (أخبار الجمعية: محافظ العاصمة يرفض طلب إقامة وفاء للمرحوم محمد عبدالله خليفة), no date, http://www.ikhwan-jor.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=507 (accessed September 25, 2007).
26 Majid Tawba, Islamic Action Carries Out Protest in front of Their [Party] Location in Solidarity with Its Detainees Tomorrow,("العمل الإسلامي" ينفذ اعتصاما أمام مقره غدا تضامنا مع موقوقيه) al-Ghad newspaper, September 7, 2007, www.alghad.jo/?news=198806 (accessed September 25, 2007), and During a Protest in front of the Location of the Party the Participants Denounce the Kidnapping of Atum and the Continued Arrest of Seven of the Cadre of the Party Background of the Municipal Elections (خلال اعتصام أمام مقر الحزب... المشاركون تنددون بخطف العتوم واستمرار اعتقال سبعة من كوادر الحزب على خلفية الانتخابات البلدية), Islamic Action Front, September 8, 2007.
27 Human Rights Watch interview with Badi Rafayia, head of the Committee Against Normalization [with Israel], Amman, June 16, 2007.
28 Nadine al-Nimri, Dhabahtuna Protests in front of the Prime Ministry a Quarter of an Hour and is Disbanded in Response to the Security Forces ("ذبحتونا" تعتصم أمام الرئاسة ربع ساعة و تنفض استجابة للقوى الامنية), al-Ghad Newspaper, June 24, 2007 http://alghad.dot.jo/print (accessed September 25, 2007).
29 Human Rights Watch interview with a student, name withheld on request, Amman, June 18 and June 24, 2007.
30 Latest News: Governorate of the Capital Prohibits Protest by Parties Against the Parties Law (اخر الأخبار: محافظة العاصمة يرفض <كتب كذالك> اعتصام الأحزاب احتجاجا على قانونها), Muslim Brotherhood, May 2, 2007, www.ikhwan-jor.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=346 (accessed September 25, 2007).
31 Governor of the Capital Denies Permission to Hold Demonstration Against Popes Remarks Insulting Islam (محافظ العاصمة يرفض السماخ بإقامة مسيرة احتجاجا على تصريحات البابا المسيئة للإسلام), al-Sabeel Newspaper, September 20, 2006, http://www.assabeel.info/inside/article.asp?newsid=13923§ion=0 (accessed September 25, 2007).
32 The Governor of the Capital Denies Permission for a Womens Protest in Solidarity with Veiled Women in France (محافظ العاصمة يرفض ترخيص اعتصام نسائي للتضامن مع محجبات فرنسا), al-Sabeel Newspaper, September 7, 2004 http://www.assabeel.info/inside/article.asp?version=557&newsid=7950§ion-78 (accessed September 25, 2007).
33 Governor of the Capital Refuses Unity Party Permission for an Artistic Celebration (محافظ العاصمة يرفض ترخيص حفل فني لحزب الوحدة), al-Ghad Newspaper, July 13, 2006, http://www.alghad.jo/index.php?news=107587 (accessed September 25, 2007).
34 Muhammad al-Irsan, The Governor of the Capital: Protest of the Parties a Waste of Time and the Opposition Denounces [His Remarks] (محافظ العاصمة "اعتصام الأحزاب مضيعة للوقت" .. والمعارضة تستهجن), Radio Amman Net, March 30, 2006, http://ammannet.net/look/article.tpl?IdPublication=3&NrIssue=5&NrSection=1&NrArticle=7318&IdLanguage=18 (accessed September 25, 2007).
35 Governor of the Capital Prohibits Festival by the National Movement to Celebrate al-Karama (محافظ العاصمة يرفض مهرجانا للحركة الوطنية احتفالا ب"الكرامة"), al-Ghad Newspaper, March 26, 2005 http://www.alghad.jo/index.php?news=14508 (accessed September 25, 2007).