Jordan jails journalist for criticizing Saudi campaign in Yemen

A Jordanian journalist was arrested on April 23, 2015, after publishing an article the week before that criticized Operation Decisive Storm, the bombing campaign by a Saudi-led coalition including Jordan against Houthi forces in Yemen.

Jamal Ayyoub, an opinion and editorial writer, regularly contributed articles to a number of Arabic-language websites, including Watan Voice, Wattan TV, and Al-Majhar. According to a statement published on April 27, 2015, by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Ayyoub was known for his critical political writing that called for “comprehensive political and social reform” in Jordan.

Ayyoub was arrested after multiple news websites published an opinion piece he wrote that criticized the Saudi-led bombing campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen, Ayyoub’s son, Mohammad, said, according to local news websites. Mohammad said that his father was accused of disrupting the kingdom’s relationships with foreign states. The journalist was taken to Marka prison for 15 days pending investigation, he said. He has not been charged.

The air strikes, which were launched on March 25, 2015, by a coalition of 10 countries including Saudi Arabia and Jordan, targeted Houthi positions across Yemen, according to news reports. The Saudi-led coalition aimed to restore President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to the presidency, news reports said. Hadi fled to Aden in February 2015 after Houthi forces overran the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014 and held him under house arrest, forcing the government to resign, according to news reports. As that campaign progressed, international criticism against it mounted due to the civilian death toll and the instability in the region that the violence caused, the reports said.

According to Human Rights Watch, Jordan’s parliament passed amendments to the country’s anti-terrorism law to broaden the definition of terrorism to include, among other non-violent actions, exposing “the Kingdom to the danger of hostile action or to disrupt its relationships with foreign states.” In addition, Article 118 of the penal code prohibits “disturbing relations with a foreign state.”

Jordan has used these provisions to arrest journalists, according to CPJ research. In 2013, the government arrested two journalists working for Jfra News under Article 118 after the site published a video purporting to show a Qatari emir during an intimate encounter with an Israeli woman, according to CPJ research. In January 2015, the owner of Saraya News, Hashem al-Khalidi, and the site’s editor-in-chief, Seif Obeidat, were arrested for “aiding terrorism” and “spreading false news” in connection with a report on the website that claimed an imprisoned Iraqi militant would be released in a hostage negotiation deal, according to news reports. Al-Khalidi and Obeidat were released in March 2015, news reports said.

Several coalition countries, including Bahrain and Kuwait, have imprisoned politicians and human rights defenders who have criticized the campaign on charges of undermining morale and disrupting foreign relations, according to news reports and human rights organizations.