PRESS CRACKDOWN CONTINUES

March 20, 2002 12:00 PM ET

New York, March 20, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by increasing state restrictions on the press in Jordan, including the detention of some journalists and the harassment of others by security agents.

On March 17, a State Security Court prosecutor imposed a 15-day detention on Hashem Khalidi, editor of the weekly newspaper Al-Bilad. Khalidi is being investigated on charges of publishing "false information" and harming the "honor or reputation of the government and its officials."

The charges are based on an article that Khalidi published under his own byline alleging that unnamed officials with close personal connections to the insurance industry would benefit from a recent government decision to increase mandatory insurance rates on vehicles.

After the article appeared, Khalidi received a call from Prime Minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb, who complained about the article and warned Khalidi that he could expect to be the subject of a criminal investigation, according to sources at Al-Bilad.

Sources at the paper told CPJ that authorities have agreed to accept bail, and that they expect Khalidi to be released by tomorrow.

On March 18, Al-Bilad's owner, Tajeddin Hroub, was detained overnight for questioning in connection with Khalidi's article.

Under harsh new Penal Code amendments adopted last fall, both men face prison terms of three to six months and fines of 5,000 Jordanian dinars (about US$7,000) if charged and convicted.

In a separate incident, former member of Parliament Toujan Faisal was detained on March 16 on the charge of "publishing materials deemed harmful to the country's reputation and that of its citizens," her lawyer told CPJ. The charge stemmed from an open letter to King Abdullah accusing government officials of corruption that was published in the Houston-based, Arabic-language online newspaper Arab Times.

Faisal had also criticized the Jordanian judiciary during appearances on regional television stations, according to The Jordan Times. Faisal is reportedly on a hunger strike to protest her detention.

"In order for a free press to thrive, all Jordanians must be free to express their opinions, even those that happen to embarrass government officials," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "We call on Jordanian authorities to release Khalidi and Faisal immediately."

These detentions follow several troubling incidents in which Jordanian authorities have harassed working journalists in response to their coverage of pro-Palestinian demonstrations and other local issues. CPJ protested these incidents in a March 5 letter to King Abdullah.

BACKGROUND

On March 10, security forces confiscated the camera equipment of journalists working with APTN, Reuters TV, and Abu Dhabi TV after they filmed a pro-Palestinian rally at Jordan University. The cameras were returned without the tapes approximately 45 minutes later.

On March 5, Jordanian authorities confiscated Reuters footage of pro-Palestinian students demonstrating at Jordan University from a Reuters crew. Earlier that day, state-run Jordan TV (JTV) barred Reuters TV, Associated Press Television News (APTN), and Al-Jazeera from using its facilities to transmit footage of the demonstrations.

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

On January 13, a State Security Court prosecutor in Amman summoned Al-Majd editor Fahd al-Rimawi and accused him of publishing "false information." He was subsequently ordered detained for 15 days for questioning.



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