Jordanian press freedom still limited, despite legal reforms

October 13, 1999

His Majesty King Abdullah Ibn Hussein
c/o His Excellency Ambassador Marwan Muasher
Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
3504 International Drive, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008

Your Majesty:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) would like to extend a warm welcome to you on the occasion of your visit to the United States.

CPJ supports Your Majesty’s efforts to initiate reform of the 1998 Press and Publications Law (PPL). As you are well aware, the 1998 PPL imposed sweeping restrictions on the press. As a result it became the subject of vigorous local and international protests. Parliament amended some of the more restrictive articles of that law in September. This is a welcome development which we hope will bolster freedom of the press in Jordan and lead to bolder reforms of Jordanian laws that inhibit free expression.

While the newly amended press law is an encouraging step, we remain concerned about other laws that remain on the books in Jordan. Certain articles of the Jordanian Penal Code, for example, prescribe harsh penalties—including imprisonment—for journalists deemed to have violated their vaguely-worded proscriptions. CPJ rejects all criminal sanctions for the expression of news or opinion. Imprisonment of journalists or the threat of imprisonment for alleged publications offenses, we believe, runs counter to accepted democratic norms for a free press, and inhibits the ability of journalists to work freely. Despite calls by Jordanian journalists to enact safeguards against criminal prosecutions, the government has yet to take action on this important issue.

Vague laws are not the only problem. For the past several years CPJ has documented a disturbing pattern of arrests of journalists in response to their coverage of sensitive domestic issues in Jordan, including criticism of public officials. Despite numerous protests by CPJ and other local and international human rights groups, the arrests continue. This has contributed to a climate of intimidation and fear for the Jordanian press. Some of the cases most recently documented by CPJ include:

September 29, 1999
Azzam Younes, Al-Arab al-Youm
Younes, editor of the independent daily Al-Arab al-Youm,was arrested by Jordanian authorities on September 29. His arrest is believed to have stemmed from articles that were published inAl-Arab al-Youmthat criticized the government’s recent crackdown on members of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in Jordan.

He was released the following day on JD3,000 bail. It is unclear whether formal charges have been raised against him.

August 23, 1999
Abdel Karim Barghouti,Al-Bilad
On August 23, Jordanian authorities arrested Abdel Karim Barghouti, editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Al-Bilad,after a state prosecutor issued a 14-day detention order against him, reportedly for defaming the son of Prime Minister Abdel Raouf Rawabdeh. Barghouti’s arrest resulted from an article published in Al-Bilad,alleging that Issam Rawabdeh had harassed a group of female nurses aboard a bus in July.

Barghouti was initially detained on August 22. He was released on bail the same day, and then re-arrested on August 23. He was eventually freed on August 28, after the state prosecutor reversed the detention order against him.

July 25, 1999
Sinan Shaqdeh, Al-Massaeyah
On July 25, journalist Sinan Shaqdeh of the evening daily Al-Massaeyah.was arrested at his home by General Intelligence agents and held without charge for over two weeks. During his detention, Shaqdeh was questioned about several news articles that he had written for Al-Massaeyahand other Jordanian newspapers, including a story that appeared in Al-Massaeyahciting critical comments reportedly made by the Syrian ambassador to Jordan on the issue of Jordanian prisoners in Syria. Shaqdeh was also questioned about his news coverage of Palestinian affairs. He was eventually released on August 10, following the reported intervention of Your Majesty.

June 29, 1999
Shaker Jawhari, Al-Khaleej
On June 29, Jordanian security authorities arrested Jawhari, a correspondent for the U.A.E.-based daily Al-Khaleeand a columnist for the daily Al-Arab al-Youm,and held him for about 32 hours. According to Jawhari, his arrest stemmed from articles published in Al-Khaleejthat were critical of the Rawabdeh government, as well as an article that criticized the quality of services at a public hospital in Amman.

As we have previously noted in our letters to Jordanian government officials, arresting journalists in response to their published work—whether carried out arbitrarily, by court order, or within the context of Jordanian law—violates the most fundamental norms for press freedom as guaranteed by international law. It is our view that such actions can only stifle the free debate that is essential in a democratic society.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-governmental organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, respectfully urges Your Majesty to assume a leadership role in advocating further reform of Jordanian law to protect journalists from criminal prosecution, arrest, and detention in response to their published work.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your reply.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Jordan

Send a letter to:

His Majesty King Abdullah Ibn Hussein
c/o His Excellency Ambassador Marwan Muasher
Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
3504 International Drive, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008