Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Jordan
As of December 31,1998

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Ignoring vocal international protests, the cabinet, parliament, and King Hussein pushed forward a repressive press law in a year that saw a continued deterioration of press freedoms. Its ratification by royal decree on September 1 marked the culmination of a year-long battle between journalists and the government of Prime Minister Abdel Salam al-Majali, which had introduced similarly draconian amendments to the press and publications law in May 1997. In January, the High Court of Justice overturned the amendments because they had not gone through the parliamentary process, prompting the government to submit a similar law to parliament in June.

Several provisions of the new law legalize censorship and provide authorities with a variety of methods to sanction independent or critical journalism. Article 37 bans coverage on a wide array of topics, including any news or information deemed to "infringe on the independence of the judiciary"; "defame the heads of Arab, Islamic, or friendly states"; or harm "national unity." Violators of these prohibitions are subject to fines as high as 10,000JD (US$14,090), while repeat offenders are subject to penalties of up to 20,000JD (US$28,180). There has been a marked increase in self-censorship among the press, which the ambiguously worded restrictions appear designed to promote.

Article 31 empowers the Press and Publications Department (PPD) to censor foreign publications deemed to violate the law's numerous prohibitions, while Article 35 allows for censorship of books published in the kingdom. The former provision directly contradicted a pledge made by King Hussein in June, when he directed then-Prime Minister al-Majali to "put an end to every form of censorship and restrictions on the Arab and foreign press."

Other censorship provisions include Article 39, which grants the judiciary sweeping powers to censor news coverage on criminal investigations or trials. And perhaps most disturbing of all is Article 50, which allows the judiciary to indefinitely close down publications that are the subject of litigation for matters of "public interest" or "national security."

Authorities continued to gag the press in a variety of other ways. On three occasions, there were media blackouts on coverage of major events, such as the trial of leading political opposition figure Leith Shubeilat; a triple homicide in Amman; and a water pollution crisis. Foreign newspapers were banned by the PPD for their coverage of domestic political issues. Journalists continued to be arrested in connection with their published criticisms, further enhancing an atmosphere of intimidation, while criminal defamation statutes were employed against outspoken members of the press.

In August, Prime Minister al-Majali resigned under pressure and was succeeded by Fayez Tarawneh. Since taking office, Tarawneh has attempted to portray a more congenial image in the government's relations with the press. One of his first official acts was to replace PPD Director Bilal al-Tal, who was notorious for his heavy-handed treatment of journalists. Foreign newspapers reported that bans on their distribution had all but stopped by the end of the year. PPD Director Iyyad Qattan announced that the government had instructed the attorney general to cancel all prosecutions of journalists initiated by the PPD during the year, and Minister of Information Nasser Judeh publicly declared that the government was committed to a "soft implementation" of the new press law. But self-censorship remained widespread.

At year's end, it appeared the government was intent on passing the responsibility of reining in journalists to the pro-government Jordan Press Association and its disciplinary council, which has the power to sanction journalists accused of ethics violations and strip them of their accreditation. It remains to be seen to what extent the association was prepared to implement this plan.
Attacks on the Press in Jordan in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
08/25/98 All JournalistsCensored
08/10/98 Hussein al-Umush, Abed RabboImprisoned
08/08/98 Nahed Hattar, Al-MithaqAttacked
07/02/98 Hussein al-Umush, Abed RabboImprisoned
06/30/98 Nidal Mansour, Al-HadathLegal Action
06/29/98 Mansour Shammout, Al-Arab al-YawmLegal Action
06/28/98 Al-Hadath Threatened
06/02/98 Nidal Mansour, Al-HadathLegal Action
05/12/98 Al-Quds al-ArabiCensored
04/11/98 Yousef Gheishan, Al-Arab al-YawmImprisoned
04/10/98 Al-Arab al-YawmHarassed, Censored
03/19/98 All JournalistsCensored
03/16/98 Raja Talab, ShihanLegal Action
03/16/98 Riad Hroub, ShihanLegal Action
03/16/98 Riham Farra, ShihanLegal Action
03/16/98 Abdel Hadi Raji Majalli, ShihanLegal Action
03/07/98 Bassam Badareen, Al-Quds al-ArabiLegal Action
03/02/98 Omar Qoulab, Al-BiladImprisoned
03/02/98 Sami Zubaidi, Al-BiladImprisoned
03/02/98 Abdel Hadi Raji Majalli, Abed Rabbo Imprisoned

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