Jordan displayed increasing intolerance for critical journalism, unleashing a long-anticipated clampdown against the opposition press. In August, authorities arrested five journalists from the weekly Al-Bilad and charged them with "inciting sedition" for reporting on demonstrations near the southern city of al-Karak protesting a government decision to raise the price of bread. Several other opposition journalists were also arrested following the events, and many still face the prospect of prosecution and prison. In November, King Hussein declared an amnesty for those individuals involved in the riots. But at the end of the year it was still unclear whether authorities would drop the charges against journalists.

The state has continued to prosecute outspoken journalists under the restrictive 1993 Press and Publications Law, which broadly criminalizes any news that "offends the King or the Royal Family," or that "damages national unity" and "foments hatred." State prosecutors, exploiting the law's vague language, targeted journalists across a broad political spectrum with libel suits, detaining, charging, and inflicting heavy monetary penalties on those who went too far in their criticism of the state.

In two instances, however, the government showed an inclination to curb its repressive policies. One positive development was the decision to forgo increasing the severity of the penalties under the Press and Publications Law. The government also put on hold proposed changes to the Journalists Association Law designed to stiffen professional requirements for journalists. Nevertheless, Jordanian journalists face an uncertain future. "It is still difficult to know what to expect from this government," said the editor in chief of a weekly newspaper. "Look at what happened in August."

April 20
Salameh Ne'mat, Al-Hayat, LEGAL ACTION
Jihad al-Khazen, Al-Hayat, LEGAL ACTION

Ne'mat, a correspondent for the London-based, Saudi-owned Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, and al-Khazen, Al-Hayat editor in chief, were acquitted of charges of violating Jordan's Press and Publications Law by publishing an article "harmful to national unity." The two had been accused in October 1995 in connection with a story alleging that many Jordanian businessmen, journalists, and officials were on the Iraqi government's payroll.

July 20
Nasir Khammash, Sawt al-Mar'a, IMPRISONED

Khammash, editor in chief of the weekly Sawt al-Mar'a was ordered detained for two weeks in "preventative custody" after the Press and Publications Department of the Information Ministry filed a complaint against him. The authorities accused Khammash of "harming Jordan's image" in an article published in Sawt al-Mar'a about drug use in an Amman neighborhood. Khammash was released on July 24, after local and international press groups criticized his detention.

August 18
Nayef al-Tawarah, Al-Bilad , IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Khaled Kasasbeh, Al-Bilad, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION
Malek Atamneh, Al-Bilad , IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Publisher al-Tawarah; editor in chief Kasasbeh; and reporters Abu Ridan, Saideh, and Atamneh of the weekly newspaper Al-Bilad, were arrested between Aug. 18 and Aug. 20 on charges of inciting sedition. The charge, filed under the Press and Publications Law of 1993, was in connection with an article published in the Aug. 21 edition of the weekly about protests in southern Jordan against the government increase in bread prices. The journalists were released after about a week in custody, pending trial. If convicted, the five face a penalty of six months to three years in prison. CPJ urged King Hussein to have the charges against the journalists dropped.

August 22
Usamah al-Rantisi, Al-Ahali, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Al-Rantisi, a reporter for the weekly newspaper Al-Ahali, was arrested by Jordanian authorities for an article he wrote that was published in the newspaper's Aug. 21 edition. The article discussed public demonstrations that took place Aug. 16-17 in southern Jordan following a government decision to increase the price of bread. Al-Rantisi, who was released after 15 days in custody, is awaiting trial on the charge of "inciting sedition," which carries a possible six-month to three-year sentence under the Penal Code. CPJ wrote to King Hussein, urging him to order all charges dropped against al-Rantisi and other journalists accused of violating the press law.

September 18
Hilmi Asmar, Al-Sabil, IMPRISONED

Asmar, the editor in chief of the Arabic weekly Al-Sabil, was arrested and detained by Jordanian authorities because of an article in which he described the alleged torture of an Islamic activist by Jordanian security officials. On Sept. 26, CPJ denounced Asmar's arrest in a letter to King Hussein. Asmar was released on Sept. 29 without charge.

October 3

Hattar, a journalist with the weekly newspaper Shihan, was taken into police custody after turning himself in to authorities who had been seeking his arrest for several weeks. The arrest was in connection with a series of articles in which Hattar described his support for unification of Jordan and Syria. He was charged with "harming national unity," "inciting the public," and "insulting the king," all vaguely worded offenses that are criminalized under Jordan's Penal Code. Hattar will be tried in a state security court and faces a possible sentence of one-and-a-half to three years in prison. In a letter to King Hussein, CPJ urged that the case against Hattar be dropped.

October 8
Ahmed Awaidi al-Abaddi, Shihan, LEGAL ACTION
Jihad al-Mo'mani, Shihan, LEGAL ACTION

Al-Abaddi, a prominent writer who contributes to the weekly Shihan, and al-Mo'mani, editor of Shihan, were charged under Jordan's Press and Publications Law with "harming national unity." The charge stemmed from a June interview in Shihan in which al-Abaddi expressed his view that Palestinian refugees in Jordan should relocate to areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip now under the control of the Palestinian National Authority. If convicted, both journalists face heavy fines or prison. In a letter to Jordan's King Hussein on Oct. 9, CPJ expressed its alarm at the Jordanian government's ongoing legal harassment of journalists.

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