The constitution provides that “The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion; and every Jordanian shall freely express his opinion by speech, writing, photography, and the other means of expression, provided that he does not go beyond the limits of the law.” Authorities applied regulations to limit freedom of speech and press in practice. Authorities applied articles of the Counterterrorism Law, the Cybercrimes Law, the Press and Publications Law, and the penal code to arrest local journalists.
Freedom of Expression: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or stirring sectarian strife and sedition. During the year the government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting a number of activists for political expression and for criticizing foreign governments. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employing official gag orders issued by the public prosecutor and circulated by the Media Commission.
In January the Court of Cassation ratified the State Security Court’s December 2016 decision to convict Nahed Hattar’s killer of “committing terrorist acts that led to the death of a human being” and to sentence him to capital punishment. Authorities arrested Hattar in August 2016 for posting an editorial cartoon on Facebook that included a personification of God, and a lone gunman killed him a month later for his Facebook post insulting religion. On March 4, authorities executed the convicted murderer.
On January 12, authorities arrested retired Major General Mohammed Otoum and seven other activists protesting against expected price increases and alleged government corruption on social media. The State Security Court prosecutor charged them with undermining the regime and engaging in acts to incite public opinion in breach of the law. A number of members of parliament (MPs) addressed the king in a letter highlighting the incident. Authorities released the detainees on bail four weeks later. The case against Otoum and the other activists remained pending.
In early August the local press reported that the Court of First Instance’s prosecutor filed charges including slander, incitement, and defamation against local journalist Mohammad Qaddah, who reportedly posted a video on Facebook, which authorities described as “insulting” and “derogatory” to women in the country. Sixteen individuals joined the prosecution against Qaddah as victims. The case continued.
The Media Commission licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers in accordance with the Press and Publication law.
Press and Media Freedom: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. Multiple daily newspapers operated; observers considered several as independent of the government, including one regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (Muslim Brotherhood) political party. Observers also judged several dailies to be close to the government. The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restriction, and media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering on-going security operations, using language deemed offensive to religion, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. For example, journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers.
The law grants the head of the Media Commission authority to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. During the year the Media Commission granted broadcasting licenses to companies owned by citizens and foreigners. Those with licenses may not legally broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, national security, or the country’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, or violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license. The cabinet, however, must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary.
Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists. On October 25, authorities arrested seven journalists and social media users under the cybercrimes law and the press and publications law after the Secretary-General of the Royal Court, Youssef al-Issawi, filed a complaint against them for publishing accusations against him on social media. The journalists allegedly accused Issawi of corruption. Authorities detained two of the seven but released the others. The investigation for all seven of journalists continued at year’s end.
On June 6, the government closed the al-Jazeera Jordan’s office and withdrew its license in connection with the Qatar/Gulf dispute.
In February 2016 authorities arrested al-Ra’i journalist Zaid Murafai for publishing an article on a protest by judges and court employees regarding losses in their pension fund. The court charged Murafai with slander and defamation under the Cybercrimes Law, as well as reporting on a pending case. Authorities released Murafai on bail four days later; charges remained pending at year’s end.
The government has a majority of seats on the board for the leading semiofficial daily newspaper, al-Rai, and a share of board seats for ad-Dustour daily newspaper. According to press freedom advocates, the GID’s Media Department must approve editors in chief of progovernment newspapers.
Media observers noted that, when covering controversial subjects, the government-owned Jordan Television, Jordan News Agency, and Radio Jordan reported only the government’s position.
By law any book can be published and distributed freely. If, however, the Press and Publications Directorate deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. The Media Commission banned distribution of 36 books from January through October for insulting religion or promoting terrorism, compared to more than 150,000 books approved for import.
Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.
In its semiannual report The Status of Media Freedoms in Jordan between January and July 2017, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) documented 98 violations of freedoms against 46 journalists and three media organizations, five cases of physical assault, two cases of humiliating treatment, and numerous assaults on equipment and deletion of content from cameras.
The center documented 34 violations against journalists covering the August 15 municipal and governorate elections. Violations included 16 cases of poll workers obstructing journalists’ work, 11 cases of withholding information, unspecified harassment, threats of abuse, and damaging equipment.
In February the CDFJ documented 33 violations against 26 journalists covering the release of soldier Ahmad al-Daqamsah, who had served 20 years in prison for killing seven Israeli schoolchildren. Authorities banned coverage in 26 cases, and four reported attacks on their equipment.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media. Journalists claimed that the government used informants in newsrooms and exercised influence over reporting and that GID officials censored reporting. Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. Occasionally, government officials provided texts for journalists to publish under their bylines. An opinion poll conducted among 266 media figures found 93.6 percent of journalists self-censored. Journalists cited the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses and court-ordered compensation of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000). At times editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. The government’s use of “soft containment” of journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.
During the year the Media Commission did not circulate any official gag orders restricting discussion in all forms of media, including social media. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. For example, the Media Commission enforced a publication ban concerning the case of an alleged robber, whom a homeowner shot and killed in west Amman.
The government continued to enforce bans on the distribution of selected books for religious, moral, and political reasons.
Libel/Slander Laws: Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as MPs, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens.
In May authorities arrested an anticorruption activist for defamation after accusing a former minister and current minister of abusing public office for personal gain. Charges remained pending at year’s end.
National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials. The government also issued gag orders restricting discussion on all forms of media concerning the December 2016 terrorist attacks in the southern city of Karak.
The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content; there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. The law gives authorities explicit power to block and censor websites. On July 15, authorities blocked a public petition website for five days, because it was perceived to be an unlicensed news website, before restoring its permissions. The website is dedicated to democracy, rights, and equality petitions.
Authorities continued to block the website of an online lifestyle magazine that covered topics including LGBTI problems, claiming that it was an unlicensed publication.
According to the Media Commission, there is no registration fee for a website. News websites must employ editors in chief with at least four-years’ membership in the Jordan Press Association. The owner and editor in chief can be fined between 3,000 JD ($4,200) and 5,000 JD ($7,000), in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparagement of individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”
According to journalists, security forces reportedly demanded websites remove some posted articles. The government threatened websites and journalists that criticized the government, while it actively supported those that reported favorably on the government. The government monitored electronic correspondence and internet chat sites. Individuals believed they were unable to express their views fully or freely via the internet, including by personal email.
According to the World Bank, internet penetration was 75 percent during the year, up from 38 percent in 2010.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government placed some limits on academic freedom. Some members of the academic community claimed there was a continuing intelligence presence in academic institutions, including monitoring academic conferences and lectures. The government monitored political meetings, speech on university campuses, and sermons in mosques and churches. Academics reported the GID must clear all university professors before their appointment. Academics also reported university administration must approve all research papers, forums, reading materials, movies, or seminars, and administrators clear potentially controversial material through the GID. Authorities edited commercial foreign films for objectionable content before screening in commercial theaters.
In June the government withdrew authorization for a planned concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese alternative rock band linked to the LGBTI movement. Authorities also banned the group in 2016. The Ministry of Tourism initially sponsored the show, but the government ultimately reversed course after encountering vocal opposition from MPs, religious leaders, and media commentators, who claimed the group (headed by a gay-identified singer) and its music (touching on themes including sex and alcohol) clashed with Jordanian values.