U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Jordan

    The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a monarchy. Its Constitution concentrates a high degree of executive and legislative authority in the King, who determines domestic and foreign policy. The Prime Minister and Cabinet manage the daily affairs of government. The Parliament, which consists of a 40-member Senate appointed by the King, and an 80-member Chamber of Deputies elected by the people, is relatively weak and not an effective check on executive authority. The General Intelligence Directorate (GID) and the Public Security Directorate (PSD) share responsibility for maintaining internal security and have broad authority to monitor the activities of persons believed to be security risks. They continue to be implicated in human rights abuses. The Government revoked martial law in 1991, but important aspects of martial law remain, such as broad police powers. Jordan has a mixed economy with significant government participation in industry, transportation, and communications. Jordan has few natural resources and is financially dependent on foreign assistance and remittances from Jordanian nationals working abroad. Because of the Government's policies during the Gulf War, Arab countries in the Gulf discontinued financial aid. The economy has been buffeted by high unemployment and inflation, and a sharp reduction of exports to Iraq due to United Nations sanctions. Human rights abuses include arbitrary arrest; mistreatment of detainees; prolonged detention without charge; lack of due process; official discrimination against adherents of the Baha'i faith; and restrictions on women's rights. Citizens do not have the right to change their form of government, although in recent years, the King has taken some steps to increase participation in the political system. In 1992 the Government legalized the establishment of political parties and has licensed 23 parties to date. The parliamentary elections held in 1993 were free and fair. Voters may elect municipal officials and the lower house of Parliament, but overall decisionmaking authority remains with the King.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Legal Code guarantees prisoners the right to humane treatment, security forces continue to abuse detainees physically during interrogation. Torture allegations are difficult to verify because security officials frequently deny detainees timely access to lawyers. The most frequent alleged methods of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings on the soles of the feet, and extended solitary confinement. Defense lawyers for 25 Islamists, called the "Arab Afghans" who were tried in a military court for "attempting to destabilize the country," claimed that security officers tortured their clients during pretrial detention from January to August 1994, and that their clients confessed under "duress". The court questioned each defendant about allegations of mistreatment. A number said that security officials had "hit" them but were unable to identify them. The Court permitted doctors to testify about the defendants' physical condition. However, the doctors were not able to examine the defendants until months after the alleged beatings, and were unable to determine the cause of the defendants' injuries.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Criminal Code requires legal authorities to file formal charges within 10 days of arrest. The courts routinely grant prosecutors' requests for 15-day extentions of detention as provided by law, thereby extending the period of pretrial detention. If a suspect is detained for a long period, which generally happens only in state security cases, the authorities often do not provide defendants with the written charges against them or access to legal counsel until shortly before trial. In 1994 the police arrested approximately 70 Islamists as suspected security risks, including 40 in a roundup in the northern city of Salt. The Constitution prohibits exile, and the Government does not resort to it.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Defendants are sometimes denied the right to fair trial in state security cases. The judicial system consists of civilian courts, which hear most criminal cases; the Appeals Courts (including the Court of Cassation); the Supreme Court; the State Security Court, which hears a range of offenses including sedition, armed insurrection, financial crimes and drug-related offenses; religious courts; and special courts, including one that has jurisdiction in disputes with government agencies. In the civilian courts, most trials are open. Defendants are entitled to legal counsel, may challenge witnesses, and have the right to appeal. Defendants facing the death penalty or life imprisonment must be represented by legal counsel. Islamic, or Shari'a, Courts have jurisdiction over marriage and divorce among Muslims and inheritance cases involving both Muslims and non-Muslims (see Section 5). Panels of three judges, who may be either civilian or military judges, hear trials in the State Security Court. Currently, only military judges are assigned to the Court. Although trials in the State Security Court are open to the public, in practice the Court has restricted the attendance of journalists, family members of the defendants, and diplomatic observers. Authorities hold defendants tried in the State Security Court for extended periods in pretrial detention without access to a lawyer. Defense attorneys in the Arab Afghan case complained that the Court did not give them sufficient time to prepare a defense because they were prevented from meeting with their clients until 2 days before the opening of the trial (see below and Section 1.c.). However, the Government permitted representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit the defendants while they were in pretrial detention. Although State Security Court judges inquire into allegations of torture and permit the testimony of physicians regarding these allegations, the Court has not to date invalidated a defendant's confession because it was obtained under torture or duress. Defendants in the State Security Court have the right of appeal to the Court of Cassation, which is authorized to review the testimony, evidence, and judgment. These appeal procedures are being tested in the "Mu'tah" and Arab Afghan cases. In the Mu'tah case, which was tried from September to December 1993, the State Security Court found all 10 defendants guilty of plotting to assassinate the King. It sentenced the ringleader to death, two other defendants to life imprisonment, and the remaining seven to long periods of hard labor. The Court of Cassation was reviewing the case at year's end. The State Security Court began the trial of the Arab Afghans on August 27 and handed down verdicts on December 21. The Court sentenced 11 defendants to death by hanging, 7 to various prison terms with hard labor, and acquitted the remaining 7 defendants of all charges. It sentenced three defendants in abstentia. The verdicts were in appeal before the Court of Cassation at year's end. The Government does not detain political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The police must obtain a warrant from the Prosecutor General or a judge before conducting searches in most cases. However, in security cases, authorities sometimes, and in violation of the law, obtain warrants retroactively or obtain preapproved warrants. Security officers reportedly monitor telephones, read correspondence, and engage in surveillance of persons that allegedly pose a threat to the regime. While these practices are not believed to be widespread, the law permits them if the Government obtains a court order.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for the freedoms of speech and the press, and citizens in general openly criticize the Government. However, the Press and Publications Law of 1993 restricts coverage of 10 subjects, most notably the military services, the royal family, and monetary policy. The Government exercises control over the print media by requiring licenses for newspapers and periodicals. However, the Press and Publications Law of 1993 restricts coverage of 10 subjects, most notably the military services, the royal family, and monetary policy. However, the law does not prescribe penalties for publishing without a license, and no such case has yet arisen. The Government may revoke a license only if a company fails to publish for an extended period of time. The law eased licensing requirements. Since enactment, the Government has licensed 12 weeklies, 2 dailies, and 4 research centers. The Government requires licenses for journalists, editors, and publishers. Journalists have long complained about the requirement that they must join the government-sponsored Jordan Press Association. However, the Government has not taken legal action against journalists who refuse to join the Association. The press law offers limited protection for the confidentiality of a journalist's sources. The Penal Code authorizes the State to take legal action against any person who incites violence, defames "heads of state," disseminates "false or exaggerated information outside the country which attacks state dignity," or defames public officials. Although the press law ended censorship, most journalists censor themselves. Journalists accused of violating the law are tried in a special court for press and copyright cases. Approximately 30 cases relating to freedom of the press were pending in that court as of November. In May a journalist and an editor of the daily English-language Jordan Times were fined JD 300 (approximately dollars 430) for reporting that defendants in the Mu'tah trial claimed that security officers had tortured them while in detention. In June the former editor and a journalist of the weekly Al-Ahali were also fined the same amount for reporting the same allegations. The defendants in both cases have appealed. The Government does not usually interfere with the importation of foreign newspapers and magazines. However, in 1994 the Ministry of Information prevented the entry into Jordan of some Arab publications, including a Lebanese periodical which was embargoed twice, purportedly for containing material regarded as morally offensive or critical of the royal family. In March the Minister of Information announced that, if asked, he would not permit the public screening of the American film, "Schindler's List." Movie distributors did not request such permission, and the film was not shown. However, the film is available in pirated videocassette format. The Government has not taken steps to seize copies or otherwise block distribution of the tape. The government-appointed Film Censorship Council prohibited showings of the Egyptian film, "The Terrorist," on grounds that it might encourage extremist violence. The Government owns the radio and television companies, and radio and television news is more restricted than print media. Television news airs criticisms of the Government but rarely covers alleged human rights abuses. All political parties generally have access to broadcast facilities, but the cost of air time is prohibitively high. In the 1993 elections, the Government determined that no party would be given access to television because not all parties could afford the expense. International cable television programs are widely available by satellite from local vendors. In the past, some leftist and Islamist university professors were dismissed for advocating extremist political views. Although there have been no known dismissals since the late 1980's, intellectuals believe that there are no safeguards to prevent future dismissals.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Citizens must obtain permits for any public gatherings. The Government has granted permits for peaceful demonstrations since 1989. The Government routinely licenses political parties and to date has licensed 23 parties. It is illegal to participate in an unlicensed party. The High Court of Justice may dissolve a party on application of the Minister of Interior if the party violates the Constitution or the political parties' law. The Government has no discretion to deny a license to a party that submits a complete application, including names of the founders, financial information, and bylaws.

c. Freedom of Religion

According to the Constitution, Islam is the state religion. Sunni Muslims constitute over 90 percent of the population. The Government does not interfere with the public worship of Jordan's Christian minority. The Government does not recognize the Baha'i faith as a religion but does not prohibit the practice of the faith. The law prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing. Muslims who convert to other faiths complain of social and government discrimination. The Government does not fully recognize the legality of such conversions. Under Islamic law, converts are regarded as apostates and may, in principle, be legally denied their property and other rights, although this does not happen. Converts from Islam do not fall under the jurisdiction of their new religion's laws in matters of personal status and are still considered Muslims under Shari'a law.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens are free to travel abroad and within Jordan, except in and through military areas. The law requires that Jordanian women and foreign women married to Jordanians must obtain written permission from a male guardian to travel abroad or apply for a passport. This requirement is normally enforced only when a married woman plans to travel abroad with children. Legal authorities will enforce requests from fathers to prevent their children from departing the country, even when traveling with their mothers. Many Palestinian residents are Jordanian citizens--with all the rights of citizenship. The Government authorizes other Palestinians to carry Jordanian travel documents. Palestinians must obtain permits from the Ministry of Interior for travel between the East Bank and the Israeli-occupied territories and neighboring states. The permits are routinely granted. In May the Government eased travel restrictions on Palestinians, allowing residents of the Occupied Territories to enjoy unlimited residence and travel in Jordan. Over 1.2 million Palestinian refugees are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in assisting refugees. There have been no reports that the Government has expelled anyone with a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens do not have any meaningful ability to change their system of government given that executive and legislative powers are concentrated in the hands of the King. He has sole discretionary authority to form and dismiss the Cabinet, dissolve Parliament, and to establish the broad parameters of public policy. Appointments made by the King to high Government posts do not require legislative approval. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet have limited policymaking powers. The Parliament is composed of a Senate appointed by the King and a Chamber of Deputies elected by the people. Of the 80 seats in the Chamber, 9 are reserved for Christians, 6 for bedouins, and 3 for Circassians or Chechens, which are ethnic minorities. The Parliament is empowered to approve, reject, or amend legislation proposed by the Cabinet. In practice, Members of Parliament ask the Government to submit specific legislation for consideration. The King may propose extraordinary sessions of Parliament and may postpone regular sessions up to 60 days. The King must approve by decree all laws passed by Parliament. If the Government amends or enacts a law when Parliament is not in session, it must submit the law to Parliament for consideration during the next session. At year's end, 6 of 31 ministers and 11 of 80 parliamentarians are of Palestinian descent. This representation is in large part the result of an electoral system which gives greater representation to south Jordan, which has few inhabitants of Palestinian origin. Women have the right to vote. Three women ran for Parliament in the 1993 election; one was was elected to a seat reserved for Circassians. Women's groups encouraged women to vote, and in the Amman area, nearly half of those who voted were women.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Local and international human rights groups investigate allegations of human rights abuses and have published and disseminated findings critical of government policy. However, the press and publications law restricts the publication of information about the military and security services, which, in effect, prevents the publication of torture reports and other abuses allegedly committed by the security services. The Arab Organization for Human Rights and the Amman-based Peace Center for Humanitarian Studies are registered with the Government and have raised human rights cases in public and in private with government officials. Both organizations have drawn public attention to alleged human rights abuses and have pressed the Government to explain the status of some prisoners and to charge or release the prisoners promptly. The Bar Association also raises human rights concerns regarding the application of the law and due process. The Government grants the ICRC access to detainees and prison facilities.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


Women experience legal discrimination in matters of pension and social security benefits, inheritance, divorce, and the value of testimony in court (see Section 1.e.). Under Islamic law, or Shari'a, female heirs receive half the amount of a male heir's inheritance, while the non-Muslim widows of Muslim spouses have no inheritance rights. A sole female heir receives half her parents' estate; the balance goes to designated male relatives. A sole male heir inherits all his parents' property. Male Muslim heirs have the duty to provide for all family members who need assistance. Under Shari'a law, the testimony of two women is required to equal the testimony of one man. This technically applies only in religious courts but is sometimes imposed in civil courts as well, irrespective of religion. Men are able to obtain divorce more easily than women under Islamic law. Marriage and divorce matters for Christians are adjudicated by special courts for each denomination. The Government provides males with more generous social security benefits than those for women. The Government continues pension payments of a deceased male civil servant to his heirs, but it discontinues the pension payments of a deceased female civil servant. By law, a married woman requires her husband's permission to obtain a passport. Married women do not have the legal right to confer citizenship on their children. However, they may confer citizenship on their non-Jordanian husbands who then may obtain citizenship for the children. Civil law grants women equal pay for equal work, but in practice this law is sometimes ignored. Social pressure against women pursuing a career is strong. Nonetheless, women have employment opportunities in many professions, including engineering, medicine, education, and law. Women's groups stress that the problem of discrimination is not only one of law but also of women's lack of awareness of their rights or unwillingness to assert those rights. The Jordanian chapter of the Business and Professional Women's Club gives seminars on women's rights and assists women in establishing small businesses. Medical experts acknowledge that spousal violence against women occurs. Cultural norms constrain victims from seeking medical or legal help and frustrate a scientific assessment of the extent of the abuse. Abused women have the right to file a complaint in court against their spouses, but in practice, familial and societal pressures discourage them from seeking legal remedies. Nongovernmental organizations provide assistance to victims of domestic violence. Wife beating is technically grounds for divorce, but the husband may seek to demonstrate in court that the beating occurred because the wife was irreligious or did not obey him. This defense stems from a Koranic injunction to hit an irreligious or disobedient wife, not to injure her but to show her the error of her ways. It is within the discretion of a Shari'a Court judge to deny a divorce in such cases. The Criminal Code stipulates a sentence of 1 year for persons found guilty of committing a "crime of honor"--which is the murder of a female, usually by a male relative, for alleged sexual misconduct. Even if the defense cannot meet the stringent condition to plead a crime of honor defense--the defendant must have witnessed the female victim engaging in intercourse--offenders rarely spend more than six months to two years in prison. By contrast, the penalty for murder is 15 years. Women may not invoke the crime of honor defense for murdering a male relative under the same circumstances. The law restricts a crime of honor to "he who surprises his wife or any close female relative committing adultery."


Although the law prohibits children under the age of 16 from working, child street peddlers may be observed on the streets of Amman. The Ministry of Social Development has a committee to address the problem and in most cases removes the children from the streets, returns them to their families, and provides the families with a monthly stipend. Corporal punishment in schools is prohibited. Although social workers say there is a significant incidence of child abuse within families, the problem is difficult to quantify.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government has granted full citizenship to all Palestinians who fled to Jordan in the period after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and to a large number of refugees who arrived after the 1967 war. However, refugees who fled Gaza after 1967 are not entitled to citizenship and are issued only limited-validity passports. Palestinians suffer disproportionate scrutiny in taxation and discrimination in the award of university scholarships and appointments to senior positions in the Government and the military.

Religious Minorities

The Government does not recognize the Baha'i faith as a religion. It does not record the religion on national identity cards issued to Baha'is, nor does it register property belonging to the community. Unlike Christian denominations, the Baha'i community does not have its own court to adjudicate personal status and family matters. Baha'i personal status matters are heard in Islamic law courts. The Government does not officially recognize the Jehovah's Witnesses, the United Pentecostal Church, the Church of Christ, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but they conduct their activities without harassment. Established religions require official government recognition in order to register property in the name of the church, but members may practice their religion without government recognition. In general, Christians do not suffer discrimination. Christians hold cabinet and other government positions and are represented in the media and academia approximately in proportion to their presence in the general population. In the military, Circassians are overrepresented in certain units. Christian and Baha'i schoolchildren in public schools are not required to participate in Islamic religious instruction.

People with Disabilities

The Government passed legislation in 1993 requiring future public buildings to accommodate the needs of the disabled and the retrofitting of existing public buildings, but implementation has been slow. High unemployment in the general population restricts job opportunities for the disabled. Private organizations and members of the royal family actively promote programs to educate and rehabilitate the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers in the private sector and in some state-owned companies have the right to establish and join unions. Unions must be registered to be considered legal. The law prohibits union membership for noncitizens. About 25 percent of the work force is organized into 17 unions. Although union membership in the Jordan Federation of Trade Unions (JFTU), the sole trade federation, is not mandatory, all unions belong it. The Government subsidizes and audits the JFTU's salaries and activities. Union officials are elected by secret ballot to 2-year terms. Although the Government co-sponsors and approves the timing of these elections, it does not interfere in the choice of candidates. Unions may not affiliate with international bodies. Labor laws prohibit strikes if a labor dispute is under mediation or arbitration. If a settlement is not reached through mediation, the Ministry of Labor may refer the dispute to an industrial tribunal by agreement of both parties. If only one party agrees, the Ministry of Labor refers the dispute to the Council of Ministers and then to Parliament. The tribunal is an independent arbitration panel of judges appointed by the Ministry of Labor. The decisions of the panel are legally binding. Labor law prohibits employers from dismissing a worker during a labor dispute. There were no known strikes in 1994.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions have, and exercise, the right to bargain collectively. The Constitution prohibits antiunion discrimination, but the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions claims that the Government does not adequately protect employees from antiunion discrimination, and that the Government has dismissed public-sector employees for political reasons. Workers may lodge complaints about antiunion discrimination with the Ministry of Labor, which is authorized to order the reinstatement of employees discharged for union activities. The Ministry has done so in three out of eight cases in 1993-94. The national labor laws apply in the free trade zones in Aqaba and Zarqa. Private sector employees in these zones belong to one national union that covers both zones and have the right to bargain collectively.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution forbids compulsory labor, except in a state of emergency such as war or natural disaster. Compulsory labor is not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Labor law forbids children under the age 16 from working except as apprentices, beginning part-time training--6 hours a day, no night shift--at age 13. Ministry of Labor inspectors attempt to enforce the law on child labor, but in practice the enforcement often does not extend to some small family businesses which employ underage children. Education is compulsory to age 15. Families in remote areas frequently keep some school age children at home to work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. The Government periodically adjusts a minimum wage schedule for various trades, based on recommendations of an advisory panel representing workers, employers, and the Government. The lowest minimum wage rate on the schedule is about $140 a month, including allowances. Workers earning the lowest wage find it difficult to stay above the poverty level, which the Government estimates at a monthly wage of about $86 per month for a family of three. The law prohibits most workers from working more than the customary 48 hours a week--54 hours for hotel, restaurant, and cinema employees. Workers may not work more than 16 hours in any continuous period or more than 60 hours' overtime per month. Employees are entitled to 1 day off each week. The law does not apply to domestic servants, who do not have a legal forum to address their labor grievances. Domestic servants, almost all of whom are foreigners, have no standing to sue in court for nonpayment of wages. The law specifies a number of health and safety requirements for workers, including the presence of bathrooms, drinking water, and first aid equipment at work sites. The Ministry of Labor makes an effort to enforce health and safety requirements, but is hampered by the lack of qualified inspectors. The inspectors do not have the power to order firms to comply with health and safety standards. The law does not require employers to report industrial accidents or occupational diseases to the Ministry of Labor.

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