Jordanian journalist arrested over critical article

New York, April 25, 2012–Jordanian journalist Jamal al-Muhtaseb has been detained since Monday on antistate charges after publishing an article alleging misconduct by the Royal Court, according to news reports. Al-Muhtaseb’s sister, the author of the article, was also arrested but was released the same day, news reports said.

The State Security Court in Amman, the capital, ordered the 14-day pretrial detention of al-Muhtaseb, the publisher and owner of the news website Gerasa News and editor of the weekly Al-Mir’aa, and charged him with “opposing the ruling system,” according to news reports. Sahar al-Muhtaseb, the article‘s author, was also arrested on Monday and given the same charges, but was released the same day on bail of 5,000 Jordanian dinars (US$7,000), news reports said.

The article, published in Gerasa News but inaccessible now, quoted an unidentified member of parliament saying that a parliamentary committee had received directives from the Royal Court, the office of the monarchy, to not refer a former minister’s case to trial, according to news reports. Sahel al-Majali, a former public housing minister, faced corruption accusations over a multibillion-dollar housing scheme that was supposed to provide housing for low-income families, news reports said.

Al-Muhtaseb is being held in a prison in Amman. Jordan’s constitution permits the State Security Court, a military tribunal, to try civilians only in cases related to state security, according to local press freedom groups.

“The Jordanian government may not relish journalists investigating its actions, but it has no right to drag them before a military court for doing so,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “The authorities must immediately release Jamal al-Muhtaseb and drop the charges against both him and his sister.”

On Monday evening, at least 50 journalists protested al-Muhtaseb’s detention and demanded his release, news reports said. Another protest was staged the next morning in front of the Jordanian parliament building, according to news reports.

Journalists who write critically about the royal family have faced threats in the past, CPJ research shows. In late February, a Jordanian blogger was stabbed and threatened for criticizing the royal family on her blog.