Court censors opposition weekly over corruption coverage

New York, March 5, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about a recent Jordanian court decision to delay the publication of the opposition weekly Al Majd.

On March 3, the State Security Court banned the publication of the March 4 issue of Al-Majd unless the paper’s management agreed to remove two articles about alleged government corruption.

One of the articles detailed a large-scale financial scandal. The second article was critical of former internal security chief Samih El-Bateekhi.

According to Al-Majd editor Fahd al-Rimawi, the March 4 issue was sent out for printing on Sunday, March 2.

The printing of Al-Majd is handled by another local independent newspaper, Al-Rai. Before the paper could be printed, Al-Rai staffers received a fax from the prosecutor general of the State Security Court, ordering them not to print Al-Majd.

When al-Rimawi contacted the State Security Court he was told that the paper could only be published if he agreed to remove the two offending articles. (Al-Rimawi believes that the prosecutor was tipped off by someone at Al-Rai.)

Under Penal Code amendments passed last year, publications can be suspended or permanently banned if they print “false or libelous information that can undermine national unity or the country’s reputation,” “violate basic social norms,” “sow the seeds of hatred,” or “harm the honor or reputation of individuals,” among numerous other restrictions.

Offending journalists face prison sentences of up to six months and fines of 5,000 Jordanian dinars (about US$7,000).

“We deplore this censorship of an independent Jordanian newspaper,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Al-Majd was covering matters of obvious public interest, and stopping its publication sets a dangerous precedent.”

In January, al-Rimawi was detained for two days and charged with publishing false news, based on several Al-Majd articles that criticized the government of Prime Minister Ali Aboul Ragheb.

In censoring Al-Majd, the court acted arbitrarily: Al-Majd was not granted a hearing or any other form of due process, and no formal charges were filed.