Jordanians protest
Jordanians chant slogans during a pro-Palestinian demonstration near the Embassy of Israel in Amman on March 28, 2024. On April 9, Jordanian security forces arrested Syrian student journalist Atia Abu Salem while he was headed to cover a protest at the embassy. He is on a hunger strike to protest the government's order to deport him. (Photo: AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

Syrian student journalist Atia Abu Salem on hunger strike in Jordanian prison

Istanbul, May 22, 2024—Jordanian authorities must immediately release Syrian student journalist Atia Abu Salem, revoke the deportation order against him, and stop censoring members of the press because of their reporting on the Israel-Gaza war, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On April 9, Jordanian security forces arrested Abu Salem, a Syrian student at Yarmouk University, in the capital, Amman, according to media reports and his lawyer Ahmad Sawai, who spoke to CPJ. Abu Salem was arrested along with Jordanian student journalist Abdul Rahman Alsheikh while they were headed to film an evening pro-Palestinian protest in front of the Israeli embassy. Alsheikh was later released, according to Sawai.

On April 15, Jordan’s Interior Ministry issued a decision to deport Abu Salem from the country, citing provisions of Article 37 of the Residence and Foreign Affairs Law, according to the official deportation document, which was provided by Sawai and reviewed by CPJ. Human rights activists have criticized Article 37, which grants the Interior Ministry the authority to deport any foreigner based on the recommendations of the Public Security Department director, for not complying with human rights principles.

The lawyer said he appealed the deportation decision the same day. Abu Salem has not yet been brought before any judicial authority since his detention.

Abu Salem was initially taken to the General Intelligence Directorate in the Abdali area of Amman, then transferred to the Shmeisani police station, according to Human Rights Watch. He was then sent to Marka prison in the capital, where he remains, according to his lawyer.

On May 15, Abu Salem went on a hunger strike to protest his detention and the deportation order, according to the Beirut-based press freedom group SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom and a statement from Sawai.

“Jordanian authorities must immediately release Syrian student journalist Atia Abu Salem and revoke the decision to deport him,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “We are extremely concerned with the recent spike in persecutions against journalists in Jordan and call on the authorities to allow them to report freely on the war and the unfolding situation.”

Abu Salem has been living in Jordan for 12 years after fleeing the war in Syria. In addition to his studies, he works independently in film and visual media.

“The right to deport foreigners from Jordanian territory is restricted, and it is unreasonable to deport someone based solely on suspicion,” Sawai told CPJ, adding, “Abu Salem’s life would be at risk” if he were deported.

Abu Salem’s lawyer also expressed concern about Abu Salem’s safety in prison, where many people who committed “serious” crimes are held.

Regional and international human rights organizations called for his release and the reversal of the deportation decision.

During the interrogation, Abu Salem was forced to unlock his mobile phone, which was inspected by security forces, according to Sawai. Security forces also kept threatening Abu Salem with deportation and repatriation to Syria during the interrogation, the lawyer said.

CPJ emailed the Amman Governorate, as well as Jordan’s Ministry of Information and Ministry of Interior, for comment but didn’t immediately receive any response.