Concerns over proposed hate speech law as several arrested for criticising the king

Expression

A draft law designed to combat hate speech has worried freedom of expression advocates in Jordan. The Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) has urged the government to engage in a consultative process with civil society and other legal experts before proceeding with the legislation. Many fear that attempts to curtail abuse on social media and hate speech could impede freedom of expression. In a statement, the organisation said:

'What Jordan faces is the same as what the whole world faces, yet other countries have not resorted to enacting legislation, because they do not wish to threaten and restrict the freedom of knowledge, due to the difficulty of crystallising agreement over a disciplined definition of hate speech.'

Many fear that the new law could be misused to persecute critics of the government and might lead to a restricted space for voicing political opinions. The drafting of the law continues.

In the backdrop of proposals to strengthen government controls over freedom of expression, on 12th January, eight activists were arrested and charged after making anti-government statements on social media. In a spate of arrests that has been widely condemned, eight individuals, including ex-army generals, a former Member of Parliament and a high ranking government official were charged with 'insulting the King' and 'incitement to spread chaos to undermine the political regime of Jordan using social media'. In a statement, one of the lawyers of the charged stated: 

'The government made these trumped-up charges in order to try the activists in the State Security Court, which is an illegal military tribunal used by the State to settle scores against activists who dared criticise the government and demand reform.'

While the activists were later released, and charges against them dropped, a civil society pushback against the arrests has already started. A statement issued by the Civil Society Coordination Committee stressed that freedom of expression is a basic right and an indicator of the maturity of democracy. It reiterated that individuals and institutions have the right to express their opinions freely, as long as it is peaceful and this is protected by Article 15 of the constitution. It expressed its rejection of the arrests and considered them to be a preemptive punishment, stressing the need to respect the fundamentals of a fair trial for the accused and their right to be tried in a civil court and to communicate with their lawyers without delay.” The original text is below. 

Peaceful Assembly

As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, protests against social and economic policies continue in Jordan. On 22nd January dozens of youth staged a sit-in protest in front of the Judiciary Directorate in Al-Jafr, Ma’an, to protest the lack of job opportunities for people in the existing institutions and projects in the province. In the context of rising unemployment, activists were angered by the lack of job creation despite economic development in the surrounding areas. The unrest has continued on the 24th January, when recent graduates in Ma'an chained themselves together outside of local businesses. The demonstrators chose to chain themselves to illustrate their powerlessness against the lack of job opportunities in Jordan. The protesters have vowed to continue mobilising until more jobs are created in the local area.