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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Jordan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Jordan, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566a9b.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The new government of Prime Minister Faisal al-Fayez, formed in October 2003, pledged to improve basic freedoms in Jordan. But if the last two years are any indication, the task will be formidable.

Since 2001, Jordan has witnessed a sharp erosion of liberties, chief among them press freedom. After King Abdullah II dissolved Parliament in June 2001, the government of then Prime Minister Ali Abou al-Ragheb enacted by fiat more than 200 "temporary laws," including restrictive Penal Code amendments with harsh new penalties for the media. The amendments, adopted shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States under the guise of combating terrorism, allowed the government to jail and fine journalists and close publications that violate a number of broadly defined offenses.

In a surprise but welcome move, the government repealed the most restrictive amendment in April, apparently in response to local and international protest, but it was not soon enough. Several journalists and one opposition figure had already been detained, prosecuted, or investigated for their outspokenness.

In January 2003, officials detained three journalists from the weekly Al-Hilal after the paper published an article purporting to describe the sexual relations between the Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. Editor-in-Chief Nasser Qamash, Managing Editor Roman Haddad, and writer Mohannad Mubaidin were sentenced in early February to prison terms ranging from two to six months for publishing "false rumors," "insulting the dignity of the state," and causing instability. The court retroactively banned Al-Hilal for two months beginning January 16, when the State Security Court prosecutor had initially halted the magazine's publication. On February 18, the court converted the prison sentences against Qamash and Haddad into fines, and both men were released. Mubaidin, the article's author, served out a six-month sentence.

In September, the general prosecutor banned the September 23 issue of the private weekly Al-Wihda. Staffers said the ban came after editors refused to comply with the prosecutor's demand that certain articles be removed before the paper appeared on newsstands. One editor said the authorities objected in particular to an article alleging that political detainees had been tortured in custody. In October, security agents ordered the newspaper to remove a cartoon from its galleys that depicted Prime Minister al-Faisal and Foreign Minister Marwan Musher as cooperating with the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The paper replaced it with another cartoon and printed the issue.

The country's powerful internal security service remains one of the greatest impediments to independent media in the country. Agents frequently exert backdoor pressure on newspapers through admonishing phone calls or warnings. The security service also enlists journalists to keep close tabs on their colleagues.

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq looming in February, newspapers failed to cover the controversial presence of U.S. troops in Jordan or even the deployment of Patriot missile batteries to protect the country against a possible missile attack by Saddam Hussein. Publications also played down or avoided coverage of antiwar demonstrations in the capital, Amman. In February, the editor of the leading pro-government daily Al-Rai told The Washington Post that he was not afraid of government reprisals against his paper because he was so heavily censoring its pages.

Foreign journalists in Jordan fared better than their local counterparts. In the months before the Iraq war, hundreds of reporters descended on Amman in hopes of securing Iraqi visas or, once hostilities began, of crossing the border to Baghdad. Most foreign correspondents experienced few difficulties reporting from the country and in many cases praised the government for accommodating them. Before the war, the government designated the area along the Iraqi border a closed military zone, and there were reports that Jordanian forces briefly detained some Western journalists for filming there. After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, most reporters were able to cross the border without incident.

The Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which was banned in Jordan in 2002 for airing a program during which a guest poked fun at King Abdullah's limited knowledge of classical Arabic, was allowed to resume broadcasting in March 2003.

In December, the government created a new licensing system for private radio and television stations, ending the state's monopoly on broadcast media. The regulations for news stations were not entirely clear at press time, but the government-appointed Audio Visual Commission, which said it was already reviewing license requests, retains veto power over all applications. Licensing fees are expensive, between 25,000 and 100,000 Jordanian dinars (US$35,000 and US$140,000) for television. Radio and TV stations wanting to cover news and political issues are required to pay 50 percent above the normal licensing fees. At year's end, it remained unclear which stations would receive licenses.


2003 Documented Cases – Jordan

JANUARY 16, 2003

Nasser Qamash, Al-Hilal
Roman Haddad, Al-Hilal
Mohannad Mubaidin, Al-Hilal
IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Qamash, Haddad, and Mubaidin, editor-in-chief, managing editor, and writer, respectively, with the weekly magazine Al-Hilal, were detained after an article by Mubaidin that appeared in the magazine's January 14 edition was deemed offensive. Authorities considered the article, titled "Aisha in the Prophet's House," insulting to the family of the prophet Mohammed. The article, which was sexual in nature, described why the prophet preferred Aisha over his other wives.

A lawyer for the journalists, Mohamed Abu Rumman, told CPJ that on January 16, the prosecutor of the State Security Court summoned the three journalists and the magazine's publisher, Ahmad Salama, for questioning. Salama was released later that day, but Qamash, Haddad, and Mubaidin were ordered detained for 15 days for questioning. The same day, the prosecutor ordered the magazine closed for two months.

On January 28, the three were formally charged with "insulting the dignity of the state," a violation of Article 150 of the Penal Code. Abu Rumman reported that the three have also been accused of "insulting the heavenly religions," a violation of Article 273 of the Penal Code.

On February 19, the court convicted and sentenced the journalists. Although Haddad and Qamash were sentenced to 14 months and 15 months in jail, respectively, the court commuted their sentences to time served and fined the men instead. Mubaidin was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but the court reduced his sentence to six months.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2003

Al-Wihda
CENSORED

Jordanian authorities banned an issue of the private weekly Al-Wihda. According Mowaffaq Mahadeen, a managing editor at the publication, and independent sources in the capital, Amman, the general prosecutor of the State Security Court ordered the ban.

Mahadeen told CPJ that the issue was banned prior to being printed and distributed. Like many other papers in Jordan, Al-Wihda is printed at the offices of larger publications that own the printers. Mahadeen said that the editor of the paper received a call from the general prosecutor demanding that certain articles be removed before the paper could appear on newsstands. When Al-Wihda editors refused, the issue was banned.

Sources in Amman told CPJ that while Jordan's Press Law does not technically allow prior censorship, it is common for some employees who work for printers to "tip off" authorities about potentially sensitive articles in private newspapers. Mahadeen told CPJ he believes that the offending article in the banned issue was about the practice of torture in Jordan.

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