The Jordanian Government Uses Covid-19 Emergency Orders to Harass Journalists and Media Professionals

In March, King Abdullah II of Jordan announced activating Defense Law No. 13 of 1992, declaring a state of emergency, giving the prime minister sweeping powers to take “all necessary measures” to combat the COVID-19 virus. The Prime Minister pledged to preserve political rights and implement the state of emergency “within the narrowest limits”, without affecting freedom of expression and private rights.

In reality, the activation of the emergency law contributed to restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly by the authorities by cracking down on journalists and activists through government measures to combat the Covid-19, in order to prevent the publication of any investigations against government’s rampant corruption.

In the wake of declaring a state of emergency, the Prime Minister issued an order stipulating the punishment of journalists with imprisonment and a fine, in the event of publishing news criticizing the government’s procedures in dealing with the pandemic, in addition to corruption files and press leaks about the king’s corruption and appropriation of public money to buy palaces and real estate outside Jordan, and the arrest of the king’s brother, Prince Hamzah, who tried to lead political and economic reforms in the kingdom.

More than 20 journalists were arrested during the period, including the director of the satellite channel “Roya”, Fares Al-Sayegh, and the director of its news department, Mohamed Al-Khalidi, due to criticism of the king and the publication of his corruption.

In July, measures were taken by the security services and the Ministry of Education, preventing social media and the Internet for several days under the pretext of preventing cheating in exams, but the real reason was preventing the citizens from knowing news about corruption and the campaign of arrests which included many tribal leaders and opponents of the rampant corruption in kingdom. The internet connection was restored after protests took place in many cities.

On 28 July, Tojan Al-Bakhiti, a 17-year-old Yemeni refugee, was acquitted of “blasphemy” and “insulting religious feelings” after an eight-month trial. The Juvenile Police Combating Cybercrime had summoned her for questioning following a report from the social media unit that included the re-publishing of cultural and religious articles by her father, Ali Al-Bakhiti, which the security services considered a violation of publishing rules.

In August, journalist Emad Hajjaj was arrested for a cartoon criticizing the deal to normalize relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. His case was referred to the State Security Court on charges of “carrying out acts that would disturb relations with a sister country.”

According to the findings of our organisation, following the issuance of Defense Law No. 13, the Jordanian intelligence service summoned dozens of journalists and warned them not to discuss files of the Jordanian regime, with threatening of prison and fine.

In our organisation, we demand the Jordanian government to stop targeting journalists and media professionals, lift the security guardianship of the intelligence on them, and allow them to exercise their duties freely in a manner that guarantees their personal and moral safety.

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