CPJ, Article 19, and Reporters Sans Frontieres
Unite in Protest of Jordanian Press Law

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August 20, 1998

His Majesty King Hussein Ibn Talal
c/o of His Excellency Ambassador Marwan Muasher
Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
3504 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008

 


Your Majesty:

The Committee to Protect Journalists, ARTICLE 19 (the International Centre Against Censorship), and Reporters Sans Frontieres write to you with great urgency regarding the press law approved this week by parliament's Upper House. Over the course of several weeks, our organizations have strongly protested
both the original draft law submitted by the cabinet in June as well as the National Guidance Committee's amended draft as grave threats to freedom of the press. It remains our position that the final version of the
law approved by parliament runs counter to fundamental norms of free expression and, if ratified into law
by Your Majesty, will endanger press freedom in Jordan.

Indeed, numerous provisions of the law effectively legalize the practice of censorship and provide authorities with a variety of methods to sanction independent or critical journalism. Of particular concern is Article 37, which bans coverage on a remarkable array of topics, including any news or information deemed to "infringe on the independence of the judiciary"; "defame the heads of Arab, Islamic, or friendly states"; or harm "national unity." Violators of these prohibitions are subject to steep fines reaching as high as 10,000JD for each offense, while repeat offenders are subject to penalties of up to 20,000JD. Such ambiguously worded restrictions grant authorities considerable power to financially cripple outspoken newspapers, and appear designed to promote self-censorship among the press. Regrettably, we note that similar provisions of the 1993 Press and Publications Law have been used in the past to systematically prosecute editors and reporters in response to their legitimate reporting on a wide range of sensitive political topics.

Article 31 empowers the Press and Publications Department to censor publications entering Jordan that are deemed to violate the law's numerous prohibitions, while Article 35 allows for censorship of books published in the kingdom. These provisions represent flagrant violations of the right to free expression as guaranteed under international law, and Article 31 directly contradicts Your Majesty's stated position on this issue as expressed in June, when you directed Prime Minister Abd al-Salam al-Majali to "put an end to every form of censorship and restrictions on the Arab and foreign press."

Other censorship provisions include Article 39, which appears to grant the judiciary sweeping powers to censor news coverage on criminal investigations or trials—a practice already employed this past year to ban reporting on several high profile cases.

Finally, we are particularly dismayed by Article 50, which grants the judiciary extraordinary powers to indefinitely close down publications that are the subject of litigation for matters of "public interest" or "national security." In effect, Article 50 will allow courts to shut down independent or critical publications
—a provision more in keeping with a state governed by martial law rather than by democratic principles.

It is our view that through its approval of the press law parliament flouted Jordan's obligation under international law to guarantee citizens the right to free expression. As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Jordanian government is obligated to uphold the right
of citizens to "seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers" as stipulated under Article 19. We also note that the press law contradicts your government's stated commitments to democratization and increased public freedoms for its citizens.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, ARTICLE 19, and Reporters Sans Frontieres therefore urge Your Majesty to uphold international standards for a free press and reject the press law approved by parliament.
We also ask that you ensure that any future legislation affecting the press seek to preserve the internationally guaranteed right of journalists to practice their profession freely.

We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists

Frances D'Souza

Executive Director
ARTICLE 19

Robert Menard

Secretary General
Reporters Sans Frontieres



Help Protest Jordan's Draft Press Law

Add your voice to CPJ's
Send a fax or letter to:

His Majesty King Hussein Ibn Talal
c/o of His Excellency Ambassador Marwan Muasher
Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
3504 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008

Fax: 202-966-3110