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Arrest of 20 pro-reform activists in Jordan is part of ongoing crackdown

The Jordanian authorities must end their crackdown against pro-reform activists and allow them freely to express their views, Amnesty International has said today.

Twenty detainees - all members of pro-reform groups - have been arrested across the country between 15 July and 4 October, either during or following peaceful protests throughout the country, calling for legal and economic reforms, greater political freedoms, and an end to corruption.

The 20 men await trial before the country’s State Security Court, a special court whose procedures fail to meet international fair trial standards, for their activities in a number of pro-reform groups. Charges against them include “carrying out acts that undermine the political system in the Kingdom”; participating in an “illegitimate gathering”; “insulting the King”; spreading news that aims at “weakening national sentiment or inciting sectarian and racial strife”; and “attempting to change the state’s constitution” - a charge which is punishable by death.

Those arrested include activists from the southern town of Tafileh, the western town of Karak and the capital Amman. Most of them are held in Jweideh prison, though some are in al-Hashemy, Balqaa’ and Um al-Loulou prisons. The detained men’s lawyers have complained they are being denied full access to their case files and some of them said they are not allowed adequate time to interview their clients.

One of the activists, Sa’oud al-‘Ajarmeh, appeared before the State Security Court yesterday on charges which can carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, in an apparent attempt to penalise him for peacefully criticising the government. Al-‘Ajarmeh, of the Tayyar al-Orduni 36 (Jordan 36 Movement), was arrested in Amman in July, reportedly for publicly criticising the King and other officials during a protest against a new elections law. He is being tried on charges of “carrying out acts that undermine the political system in the Kingdom” and “inciting others to carry out illegitimate acts”.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said:

“Amnesty International calls on the Jordanian authorities to release all those held solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, immediately and unconditionally.

“King Abdallah’s open letter this week to the incoming Prime Minister, emphasising the ‘government’s responsibility to respect freedom of expression … and the right to peaceful protest’, is at odds with the punitive measures we are seeing imposed on peaceful protestors.

“We are also extremely concerned at reports that one of the men - Hesham al-Sarahin, was beaten during arrest on 7 September in Sports City, Amman, and that Sa’oud al-‘Ajarmeh was beaten in Um al-Loulou prison on 10 October by fellow-prisoners held on non-political charges.

“It is the authorities’ responsibility to ensure that these men are protected against torture and other ill-treatment and therefore we call on them to open independent, impartial, thorough and comprehensive investigations into these allegations, and to bring anyone found to be responsible for abuses to justice.”

Since regular protests calling for reform in Jordan began in January 2011, the King has promised to implement political, economic and social change, suggesting that there will be a transfer of power from the monarch to parliament and that future governments will be democratically elected and based on representative political parties. The King has appointed a new prime minister four times since February 2012, tasking them with expediting reforms, but protests are continuing at the lack of any actual reforms.

These latest arrests are part of a persistent pattern of the authorities repressing legitimate criticism. In March, six men from the Free Tafileh Movement were detained as prisoners of conscience for several weeks, following an earlier protest by Tafileh residents which ended in violence; none of the men had any apparent involvement in the violence or even in the organisation of the protest. Accusations against them included “insulting” the King.

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