Report: Severe restrictions on media, free speech in Jordan in 2016

Published March 6th, 2017 - 03:00 GMT
Jordan issued a gag order after Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was shot and killed on the steps of a court in Amman last year. (AFP/File)
Jordan issued a gag order after Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was shot and killed on the steps of a court in Amman last year. (AFP/File)

One of the most significant human rights problems in Jordan in 2016 was the restrictions on the freedom of expression, a US report has said, as the government reiterated its support for media freedoms.

The  US Department of State’s 2016 Human Rights Country Report, recently posted on the agency’s website, alleges that these restrictions limited the ability of citizens and the media to criticise government policies and officials, also citing reported mistreatment and allegations of torture by security and government officials.

The Constitution ensures the freedom of speech and the press, but the government “did not respect these rights,” the report claimed. Authorities applied articles of the Anti-terrorism Law, the Cybercrime Law, and the Penal Code to arrest local journalists, it added.

Stressing that Jordan is committed to freedom of the press, Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani said: “Applying the law to the media and to journalists does not hinder them from practising their job or questioning or criticising government policies.”

However, that does not make them above the law, Momani, who is also the government’s spokesperson, told The Jordan Times on Sunday.

The US report claimed that the government restricted the rights of individuals to criticize the authorities by arresting a number of activists for expressing their political views and for criticizing foreign governments.

Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, the report said, adding that authorities also employed gag orders issued by the Media Commission, barring publications from reporting stories of sensitive nature, under police investigation or being seen by a court.

The government “influenced news reporting and commentary” through “political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media”, the report charged.

For Nidal Mansour, president of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, the US Department of State’s report is “accurate” as it is mostly based on local reports by many entities, including the centre.

“Some journalists and social media activists were detained in 2016, but the number of detained media practitioners was less when compared to 2015, and the main reason was that the government issued many gag orders banning the media from covering several issues,” Mansour told The Jordan Times.

“There were still restrictions in 2016, and the government used several laws to restrict media freedom, including the Press and Publications Law and the Cybercrimes Law,” he added.

“Professional journalists continue to practice their work freely, and only unprofessional practices end up in trouble with the law. Jordan is a country where the rule of law prevails, and that is consistent and indeed supportive of freedom of the press,” the minister said.

By Mohammad Ghazal

© Copyright The Jordan Times. All rights reserved.

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