People walk past street vendors outside a mosque in Amman, Jordan, on June 6, 2018. A journalist was imprisoned over an article on a private hospital on January 2, 2019. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)
People walk past street vendors outside a mosque in Amman, Jordan, on June 6, 2018. A journalist was imprisoned over an article on a private hospital on January 2, 2019. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

Jordanian journalist imprisoned over article on private hospital

Beirut, January 17, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the imprisonment of Nidal Salameh, a journalist for the website Gerasa News, who was convicted of violating Jordan’s Press and Publications Law and the Cybercrime Law.

The Court of Appeals in Amman on January 2 upheld a ruling of the Court of First Instance sentencing Salameh and Jihad Abu Baidar, the editor-in-chief of Gerasa News, to three months in jail and ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Salameh for publishing material on the Gerasa News website about a private hospital, according to his employer, other news reports, and the local press freedom group Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ).

CPJ could not determine why the court did not also order the arrest of Abu Baidar.

“The web of restrictive laws and vaguely worded regulations governing Jordan’s media makes it impossible for journalists to stand on safe ground,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour in Washington, D.C. “We call on authorities to release Nidal Salameh and reform the statutes that wrongly landed him in jail for doing his job.”

According to CFDJ, Salameh and Abu Baidar were convicted of violating Article 5, which says publications shall respect the truth and refrain from publishing anything that conflicts with the principles of freedom, national responsibility, human rights, and values of the Arab and Islamic nation, and Article 38, which says that reproduced or quoted material will be treated as original, of the Press and Publications Law; and Article 11 of the Cybercrime Law, which penalizes online defamation with a prison sentence of at least three months.

Salameh is being held at Swaqa Prison, 70 kilometers (43.4 miles) south of Amman, according to the journalist’s employer.

CFDJ told CPJ that as of today, Abu Baidar had not been arrested. Abu Baidar did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment sent via Facebook.

CFDJ said that Salameh’s lawyer, Marwam Salem, had filed a request with the Court of Appeals urging the court to take into consideration the fact that Salameh has diabetes and to replace his prison sentence with a fine. The request was turned down by the Court of Appeals on January 2 on the grounds that the parties have failed to reach a settlement, according to the same news reports.

Salem told CPJ that he had appealed Salameh’s jail sentence with the Court of Cassation, the highest court in Jordan, and that the case is currently being studied by the Justice Ministry.

Although CFDJ and news articles said that Salameh had been sentenced because of an article about a private hospital that was published on the website of Gerasa News in 2015 and CPJ found some 2015 articles mentioning private hospitals on the Gerasa News site, CPJ could not determine which article is related to the case or independently confirm the topic with either the journalists’ employer or lawyer.

On January 4, a group of 79 Jordanian journalists issued a statement calling on the judiciary to replace the three-month jail sentences against Salameh and Abu Baidar with fines and to amend the Cybercrime Law, the Press and Publications Law, and the Penal Code, news reports said.

Jordan’s Justice Ministry did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

In mid-December, Mohammad al-Wakeel, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the news website Al-Wakeel News, and intern editor Ghadir al-Rabihat were jailed for two days on charges of inciting sectarian strife after a complaint was filed over an altered image of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” on the site’s Facebook account, CPJ reported at the time.