August 20, 1998
His Majesty King Hussein Ibn Talal
The Committee to Protect Journalists, ARTICLE
19 (the International Centre Against Censorship), and Reporters
Sans Frontieres write to you with great urgency regarding the press
law approved this week by parliament's Upper House. Over the course
of several weeks, our organizations have
Indeed, numerous provisions of the law effectively legalize the practice of censorship and provide authorities with a variety of methods to sanction independent or critical journalism. Of particular concern is Article 37, which bans coverage on a remarkable 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 steep fines reaching as high as 10,000JD for each offense, while repeat offenders are subject to penalties of up to 20,000JD. Such ambiguously worded restrictions grant authorities considerable power to financially cripple outspoken newspapers, and appear designed to promote self-censorship among the press. Regrettably, we note that similar provisions of the 1993 Press and Publications Law have been used in the past to systematically prosecute editors and reporters in response to their legitimate reporting on a wide range of sensitive political topics.
Article 31 empowers the Press and Publications Department to censor publications entering Jordan that are deemed to violate the law's numerous prohibitions, while Article 35 allows for censorship of books published in the kingdom. These provisions represent flagrant violations of the right to free expression as guaranteed under international law, and Article 31 directly contradicts Your Majesty's stated position on this issue as expressed in June, when you directed Prime Minister Abd al-Salam 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 appears to grant the judiciary sweeping powers to censor news coverage on criminal investigations or trials—a practice already employed this past year to ban reporting on several high profile cases.
Finally, we are particularly dismayed by Article 50, which grants the
judiciary extraordinary powers to indefinitely close down publications
that are the subject of litigation for matters of "public interest"
or "national security." In effect, Article 50 will allow courts to shut
down independent or critical publications
It is our view that through its approval of the press law parliament
flouted Jordan's obligation under international law to guarantee citizens
the right to free expression. As a signatory to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Jordanian government
is obligated to uphold the right
The Committee to Protect Journalists, ARTICLE 19, and Reporters Sans
Frontieres therefore urge Your Majesty to uphold international standards
for a free press and reject the press law approved by parliament.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Help Protest Jordan's Draft Press Law