Jordan

By Brittany Baig

officially adopted on 18 April 1928

officially adopted on 18 April 1928

Jordan is said to be a country that is both old and new. It is new because Jordan was not fully independent and recognized as a country until 1946, but it is old because the country is home to some of the oldest sites in world history. Part of the Fertile Crescent, Jordan has a rich history that coincides with the rise and fall of the world’s greatest empires, leaders, wars, and religions.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Jordan ranks 143 out of 180 in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index with a score of 42.07. In 2005, Jordan was at its peak rank at 96, but then saw a gradual decline every year to its present ranking. This continual lowering in press freedom can be seen as a contributor to Jordan’s 55 out of 175 ranking in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index (Freedom House).

Historical Background

Jordan is located in the Middle East, sandwiched between Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq (although it should be noted that they are not completely landlocked). According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book, Jordan is the 112th largest country in the world, and houses a population of 7,930,491 people. The site did note however that as of July 2014 that number did not include all of the recent Syrian refugees that have fled due to the continuing conflict in Syria. Of the 7,930,491 people in Jordan, “Palestinians make up a significant part of Jordan’s population, perhaps more than one-half” (Shoup 7) According to John Shoup, author of Culture and Customs of Jordan, the number of Palestinians increased as a result of the growing frictions between Arab Palestinians and Jews following World War I. Other waves of Palestinians came as a result of the hostilities and wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors in 1948 and 1967. The rest of the population is comprised of mostly Arabs, but does also include a small number of Armenian and Circassian minorities (Salibi 27)
Jordan is known for many things. In the United States and other Western societies, Jordan is probably best known for its connection with the famous T.E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, “whose exploits with the Bedouin during World War I have helped perpetuate the romantic images of robed Bedouin riding camels and dramatic desert landscapes.” (Shoup 1) It may also be recognized as the setting where Indiana Jones discovers the Holy Grail. “To the Middle East, Jordan is known and called the Land of Ahlan wa Sahlan, or the Land of Welcome due to the traditional Arab hospitality.” (A Modern History of Jordan) This hospitality is evident with Jordan’s ever increasing acceptance of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Jordan has some of the oldest settlements in human history dating back to 8,000 B.C. Jordan’s history is one that can be classified as being ruled by others starting with the Egyptian Empire then being conquered by the Babylonians, the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great, the Egyptian Empire again, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British, until finally gaining independence in 1946 with the establishment of the Hashemite Kingdom.
According to Salibi, Jordan’s government is classified as a constitutional monarchy. There are three branches of government, but most positions like prime minister, chief justice, and members of the House of Nobles is appointed by the king which is currently King Abdallah II. The legal system in Jordan is similar to many countries in that region; it is a mix of civil law and Islamic Law or Shari’ah. According to endblasphemylaws.org, the constitution and government policy of Jordan strongly favors Islam and punishes criticisms of Islam as well as criticisms of the ruling family and the system of government. It should be noted, however that Jordan has had a positive upward trend of women’s rights since 2005. (Freedom House)

Free Speech Issues

In Jordan, freedom of speech is limited by the government and Islamic law even though the Jordan constitution. After the Egyptian revolt, the Jordan regime passed legislation that required websites to register with the government and pay a fine. Punishments for speaking out against the government changed as well. In 2009, King Abdullah proclaimed that the jailing of journalists would be outlawed, but only a couple of years later that policy was abandoned.
Under the Jordanian Penal Code:
“Whoever summons the audacity to publicly speak out against the heads of religion- The Prophets-is imprisoned from 1 to 3 years.” (al-Jabri)
Not only are citizens of Jordan punished for speaking out against Islam, they can also be charged if they speak out against the royal family and countries friendly with Jordan. In 2013 two Jordanian activists on were arrested after attending a debate. Authorities charged both with “inciting anti-regime” sentiment and transferred them to the prison pending an investigation. (Freedom House)
Symbolic speech is also punished by the government. In early 2012 a Jordanian youth was arrested for burning a poster of King Abdullah and was charged with “undermining his majesty’s dignity.” A few months later the Jordan government shut down a satellite channel which aired views critical of royal officials, because not only are publishers and producers responsible for whattheir reports and journalists say, but they are also responsible for comments from their audiences under the 2012 act.

Free Press Issues

Jordan citizens have very little free press rights. All newspapers must be registered and be licensed with the government, and the practice of self-censorship is common amongst Jordanian reporters. In 2013 a study conducted by the Centre for Defending Freedom found that a total of 86% of journalists said that they practice self-censorship. (JordanTimes.com)
The freedom of the press has drastically diminished even more for the citizens of Jordan after the passing of restrictive press and online legislation back in 2012. Since the act was passed 304 websites have been banned by the government according to the committee to project journalist website. All websites must be registered with the government, and if they are not the government shuts them down. It is also important to note that the Jordan government owns several media news outlets that encompass television, radio, and online news.
There have been several cases where citizens have been charged and sentenced for publishing their opinion both online and through writing. In April 2012 Sahar al-Muhtasab and her brother Jamal al-Muhtasab, were charged with “subverting the system of government in the kingdom”, when they wrote an article accusing King Abdullah of corruption. The punishment for committing a crime like this in Jordan is hard labor. (BBC News)
“The problem is that the political climate in the region in the past two years – but increasingly in the past year – has made it very easy for the government to get away with more censorship, more repression, more crackdown on freedom of expression, on press freedom” says Lina Ejeilat, one of the founders of the website 7.iber that was shut done in 2013, an in interview with ifex.org.
Even before 2012, Jordan has arrested and sentenced citizens for speaking out against the government and Islam. Back in 2006, what is known as the Mohammed Cartoon Crisis , saw the jailing of two journalists in Jordan for the reprinting of cartoons mocking the prophet; a crime that falls under what is commonly referred to as Blasphemy Law in the Middle East. The journalists were given two month sentences. It is interesting to note however that Jordan was the only country under Islamic law to reprint the cartoons. (Kolig 72)

Critical Comparison of the United States and Jordan

The United States of America and Jordan do not house similar free speech and free press freedoms. Although the United States is not considered the freest country when it comes to free press and free speech rights, ranking 49th on the world press freedom index, it would be considered the freer country when compared to Jordan. Websites in the United States are not required to register with the government like they are in Jordan. Defamation of the government and government employees is not a crime in the United States as it is in Jordan thanks to New York Times v. Sullivan, a case where the Supreme Court ruled that criticism of the government is at the heart of the first amendment.
As mentioned earlier, a young man was arrested in Jordan for burning a picture of King Abdullah. In the United States, that would be classified as symbolic speech which is protected speech in the eyes of the Supreme Court due to their decision in Texas v. Johnson where the court found that the burning of the flag was symbolic speech which constituted first amendment protection.
In 2012, Egypt experienced a revolution dubbed the Arab Spring. Western countries along with many Middle Eastern countries believed that use of technology to spread ideas, bring people together to protest, and eventually overthrow a government would influence and spill over to other Middle Eastern countries. This was not the case for Jordan. “It was believed that the so-called Arab Spring might boost freedom of the media, but despite the minor difference it made, the revolts did not have the widespread effect we were hoping for,” said CDFJ President Nidal Mansour (JordanTimes.com)

The United States for so many people was a country of religious freedom, allowing all religions to live peacefully together (although that hasn’t always happened), and even though Jordan is tolerant towards other religions 92.7% of Jordan citizens are Muslim (CIA.gov). Islam in the Middle East strongly favors Sharia law. Sharia law at its core is restrictive in speech and press. In a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 82% of Jordan citizens favored recognizing Islamic law as the official law of the land and were in favor of the traditional penalty of death for apostasy (Krogt 22). This statistic shows an overwhelming number of Jordan citizens place a greater importance on religion than free speech, where as in the U.S. religion dogma doesn’t’ rule over freedom of expression. For example in the late 1960’s the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of free speech and press that collides with religious doctrine like in Epperson v. Arkansas which “invalidated an Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution.” (ncse.com)

Conclusion
The trend of decreasing freedoms of speech and press is at a steady pace in Jordan as unrest continues in the Middle East. Although Jordan has been called a moderate Islamic country by many organizations, current trends show that this statement may not be true in the coming years. “Jordan cannot claim to be making democratic reforms while prosecutors hunt down journalists doing their job” says Human Rights Watch writer Christopher Wilcke.

Works Cited
Hazaimeh, Hani. “Majority of Jordanian Journalists Exercise Self-censorship – Survey.” Jordan Times. N.p., 6 May 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Kolig, Erich. Freedom of Speech and Islam. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Matsumura, Molleen, and Louise Mead. “Ten Major Court Cases about Evolution and Creationism.”
National Center for Science Education, 7 Aug. 2007. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Salibi, Kamal S. The Modern History of Jordan. London: I.B. Tauris, 1993. Print.
Shoup, John A. Culture and Customs of Jordan. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007. Print.
Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
“Jordanian Authorities ‘suppressing Free Speech'” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
“Jordan – IFEX.” IFEX. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
“Menu.” End Blasphemy Laws. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
“The Freedomhouse.” The Freedomhouse. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
“World Report 2014: Jordan.” World Report 2014: Jordan. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

(Last updated May 1, 2015)

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One Response to Jordan

  1. sirajdavis says:

    I have been teaching in the Middle East while documenting and researching and teaching Iraqi, Palestinan, and Syrian refugees for free in a period of 6 years. I help in what ways I can selflesly and altruistically. I’ve always attempted to remain far from the political context in the region as foreigners, but occasionally, we are forced to intercede when we feel compelled by our conscience and morals. This occurred twice in Jordan to me.

    One was a case wherein I, along with Alice Su of Al Monitor, Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch, Belal Omar of Radio Al Balad, and a few others. We documented cases of torture, wrongful imprisonment, and abuse by the Public Security against Palestinian refugees in Jerash (Gaza) Camp Jordan. I at the time was fired from my previous employment at Nell language institute when my Palestinian boss , Neveen , instructed me to immediately leave Gaza Camp or I would be fired. I chose to be fired only several months later being rehired by her again. A week after the arrests in Gaza Camp, there was a non-violent demonstration by some of the refugees of Gaza Camp to release those wrongly imprisoned refugees. The intelligence had visited those who organized the protest and gave them a week to leave Jordan. With no where to go, these refugees – one was Ahmad Amrah – was compelled to beg for forgiveness and was coerced into signing an agreement to never hold any demonstrations again.

    http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleno=23374#.Vqnn1_l97IU

    Recently, another occasion occurred wherein the balance from fear of drawing too much attention, criticism, and state intimidation with doing the right thing occurred.

    I came across several cases of Syrian refugee abuses not being answered by the UNHCR and other authorities within Jordan. Cases of Syrian refugees not being given medicine they need for their children, a deportation of a Palestinian Syrian from Jordan because the refugee is Palestinian, a case where several families were exploited and abused by a landlord in Salt, Jordan (one landlord tied a refugee to a tree and whipped him in front of his family and public for late rent), etc. After an interview by me and Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch along with our interpreter Jamal Albes, the son of a mother from the third family of seven families abused by a single landlord in Salt, was immediately arrested by plain clothed officers. Adam contacted the UNHCR attempting to discover where this son was located and I and an interpreter spent our whole day traversing Zarqa and Amman trying to locate this refugee at detention facilities. We didn’t find this refugee. The remaining 4 families then refused to cooperate with our interviews.

    Afterwards, I took such cases to the National Center for Human Rights and they said they couldn’t do anything. I asked other friends within Jordan to help, it seemed no one could help. Finally, I decided to make a music video with the help of artists in America and Jordan to try to raise awareness on the issue.

    After this video, I was told by close friends that the intelligence had been asking about me and even making comments to colleagues that I would be made an example of. Nothing occurred immediately after the publication of the video, so I dismissed such gossip as just talk. But it appears it wasn’t.

    Three days ago, I was called on the telephone and told by an unknown person to immediately visit the office of the governor of Amman, Khaled Abu Zaid. I went there and was told by the preceding man to leave Jordan in one week. I asked for the reasons, none was given. I asked for an extension because I live pay check to pay check, he refused. I asked if there was a problem with my residency card and if I needed to renew it, he repeated again, “you must leave Jordan in one week.” I contacted Adam Coogle of HRW and told him what occurred and he replied this happens regularly to journalists and HR activists. I then contacted the National Center for Human Rights and they said they would investigate. I haven’t heard from them yet. I called my lawyer, Mustafa Areefahat, he visited the governor. My lawyer told me Thursday morning that the governor informed him this was a decision from the intelligence and nothing could be done about it. The US Embassy has been waiting to see the consequence of my lawyer’s efforts but persistently calling me to guarantee my safety.

    The first day from the date of my ordered deportation, I received an anonymous phone call and the voice warned me about posting anything bad about Jordan. He hung up after this.

    The second day , a person with black clothing approached me near the North Gate of the University of Jordan without identifying himself and asked “is there anything you want to share with us before you return to America? Something might help you?” I replied with a bewildered face and query “what do you mean?” He responded “what are you doing here in Jordan? We want to keep a good relationship with your nation. Have you seen anything or know something you want to talk about.” I smiled and replied, “No. I’m good. Have a good life.” I stared back in defiance after his stares and he walked away.

    I am forwarding this message to you in order to raise awareness of this issue. I am unable to afford expenses to leave in a week. However, I am not concerned about my fate, we win and lose in life all the time and sometimes that result is out of our control, but I believe the way we conduct ourselves before that end is what is important. I don’t want such nefarious and unethical acts against humanity and religious conduct and political legitimacy to occur without the public comprehending what we journalists and volunteers endure when we do answer our conscience by helping those who cry out for our help. I believe in the modern Thomas Nasts of today, and their benefit and responsibility toward the public to shape and form a better world. Jordan is deteriorating, not getting better, and if the corruption and lack of rights persists to be violated while simultaneously superficially lauded on a beautiful silver platter, without inspecting the actual quality of the ingredients and food above and underneath on that plate, we will be devouring rotten victuals that will inevitably explode into the shit we see screaming Allahu Akbar with weapons -while raping and torturing others- in Syria and Iraq. Such ideology, such thoughts and sentiments, is prevalent in Jordan and getting worse by the day and the path Jordan is taking now, its heavy handed tactics and its ignoring of its own violations of human rights and international laws and its press censorship and intimidation, is not going to work to stymie the discontent rising this time. We all should be concerned. If I become a victim of state repression, there will be others in the future.

    Sincerely,

    Siraj Davis

    Master of Arts, History

    English and History Instructor
    Author of Religious Fanaticism: Early 19th Century Marginalization of David Walker and Nat Turner
    and The Pursuit of Love Against the War of Terrorism
    http://www.amazon.com/ Religious-Fanaticism- Abolition-Century- Marginalization/dp/3639320220
    Author of various international publications on human rights, in six different languages
    News Journalist for Salem News
    Amnesty International Lobbyist and Organizer
    American Families United Lobbyist
    Asian Student Association Co-founder
    American Association for Palestinian Rights Organizer
    Founder and president of Clemson University Collective Consciousness human rights organization
    Constituent of the Truth, Justice, and Peace Movement and the Liberate Ziyad Yaghi Campaign
    http://www.fairobserver.com/ author/Siraj%20Davis/

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