The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The constitution grants the king ultimate executive and legislative authority. The multiparty parliament consists of the 65-member Senate (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king and a 130-member popularly elected House of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwwab). Elections for the House of Representatives occur approximately every four years and last took place in 2016. International observers deemed the elections organized, inclusive, credible, and technically well run.
The Public Security Directorate (PSD) has responsibility for law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The PSD, General Intelligence Directorate (GID), gendarmerie, and Civil Defense Directorate share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The gendarmerie and Civil Defense Directorate report to the Ministry of Interior, while the GID reports directly to the king. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security, although they also have a support role for internal security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture by security officials; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; restrictions on freedom of association and assembly; incidents of official corruption; “honor” killings of women; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and conditions amounting to forced labor in some sectors.
Impunity remained widespread, although the government took limited, nontransparent steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. Information on the outcomes of these actions was not publicly available for all cases.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides, “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, cybercrimes law, press and publications law, and 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 fomenting 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. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employed official gag orders issued by the public prosecutor.
During the year Human Rights Watch alleged that the government increasingly targeted activists on charges ranging from insulting the king to undermining the political regime to online slander, which they say violated activists’ right to free expression. On May 20, a group of activists called Jordan Hirak-Karameh (English translation: The Jordanian Movement for Dignity) started an online petition that gathered several hundred signatures protesting the detention of 19 activists who were arrested for their participation in protests and for chanting slogans critical of the king.
In December 2018 the attorney general ordered the detention of media personality Mohammad al-Wakeel, founder of al-Wakeel Media Group, along with an editor working at his website, for posting a caricature deemed offensive to Christians and Muslims. The two men were charged with sectarian incitement and causing religious strife under Article 15 of the Cybercrimes Law and Article 38 of the Press and Publications Law. Authorities released al-Wakeel and the editor after two days at the Juweideh detention center.
In November 2018 authorities arrested the secretary general of the organization Mouminoun (Believers) without Borders, Younis Qandil, and charged him with slander, sectarian incitement, and broadcasting false information for staging his own kidnapping. Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Interior cancelled an academic workshop organized by Qandil’s group, which some considered an attack and insult on Islam. Younis was sentenced to detention at the Juweideh correctional center. As of September he remained in detention. During the year the public prosecutor dropped charges in the 2017 case against local journalist Mohamma Qaddah for slander, incitement, and defamation for his posting of a video on Facebook that authorities described as “insulting” and “derogatory” to women in the country.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: 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 (the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s legally registered political party). Observers also judged several daily newpapers to be close to the government. The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restrictions, 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 ongoing security operations, using language deemed offensive to Islam, 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. 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. The cabinet, however, must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license.
During the year the government rejected broadcast licensing fee exemptions for community radio stations proposed by the Media Commission in February 2018 for financial reasons, according to the media commissioner.
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. Nonetheless, if the Media Commission 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. During the year the Media Commission banned distribution of 55 books for insulting religion, displaying pornographic images, and promoting homosexuality. The commission approved the importation of approximately 800,000 books. The Media Commission continued to ban the distribution of selected books for religious and moral reasons.
The Media Commission licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers in accordance with the Press and Publication Law.
Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.
In its annual report, The Status of Media Freedoms in Jordan in 2018, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) documented 68 specific cases of violations of freedoms against journalists and media organizations. The CDFJ reported a decline in media freedom violations from 2017 but attributed it primarily to self-censorship and the government’s denial of access to journalists in covering sit-ins and protests during the year.
Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists.
Al–Rai journalist Hussein al-Sharaa was sentenced in 2018 to six months of imprisonment (the highest sentence for such offense) following a complaint filed against him by the PSD for a post he wrote on Facebook, which the PSD considered offensive. The Jordan Press Association appealed the verdict for its issuance without the presence of the defendant’s lawyer. The appeals court released al-Sharaa on bail until completion of the judicial procedures, and the case remained pending.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media. The CDFJ report noted continuing widespread self-censorship among journalists in 2018. 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 by the CDFJ found 92 percent of journalists self-censored their reporting in 2018. Journalists cited the declining financial conditions of media outlets, 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.
Libel/Slander Laws: Article 11 of the Cybercrimes Law allows public prosecutors to detain individuals suspected of violating libel and 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 members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens. Amendments to the law place the burden of proof for defamation on the complainant.
In January, Amman’s attorney general charged retired civil defense brigadier general Khaled al-Dabbas with slander and defamation, disclosure of secrets without a legitimate reason, and broadcasting false news, for a comment al-Dabbas published on Facebook. After riots broke out in the retired general’s hometown, police intervened to end the protests, and authorities released al-Dabbas the next day. The case was later dismissed for insufficient evidence.
Also in January the attorney general detained activist Mustafa Shoman on charges of slander after he posted a Facebook video implying criticism of the king and crown prince after they invited a municipal worker to join them in watching the national soccer team’s game, calling the interaction staged. Shoman was released from detention on bail in February, and the case continued.
National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
f. Protection of Refugees
With the support of the humanitarian community, the government registered and facilitated access to civil documentation for Syrian refugees through the urban verification exercise for refugees, which concluded in March. Through this exercise, the Ministry of Interior issued 478,129 identification cards, allowing refugees to regularize their status living outside of camps, giving them freedom of movement and access to public services and assistance. Additionally, the government returned 205,072 confiscated-upon-arrival documents to Syrian refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there was no backlog of registration for Syrian refugees, and it was possible for Syrians to register with UNHCR upon arrival in the country at centers in Amman and Irbid.
There were reports of forced relocations to Azraq refugee camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5, as an alternative to deportation for offenses by Syrian refugees; such offenses encompassed “irregular status” (expired registration documents or working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, without the latter being clearly defined. As of September, Azraq camp hosted more than 39,900 individuals, including more than 10,000 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. In 2018 NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated more than 7,200 refugees to Azraq camp, including more than 4,000 to Village 5 for security reasons. The vast majority of these refugees were not informed of the reasons for their detention and did not receive legal assistance. Residents of Village 5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but had limited access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, which required a security escort. Although several hundred refugees were screened out of Village 5 each month, the screening process allowing Village 5 residents to relocate to the larger camp remained irregular and slow. Reportedly, many Village 5 residents had remained in this location for more than three years.
A number of Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) and other refugees resided in King Abdullah Park (KAP), an unused fenced public space repurposed since 2016 to house PRS, mixed Syrian-PRS families, and some individuals of other nationalities who arrived from Syria. As of August, 479 individuals were held in KAP, of whom 330 were PRS, 135 Syrians, and 14 of other nationalities. Civil documents of PRS and other refugees were held by authorities during their stay in the camp, and residents were required to apply for leave in order to go outside the camp, severely limiting their freedom of movement. Many PRS who lacked legal status in Jordan limited their movements to avoid coming into contact with authorities. Access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents, the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–remained highly complex for this group. These vulnerabilities put undocumented refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.
For those PRS who held Jordanian citizenship, revocation of that citizenship remained a concern. The UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of at least 50 cases of citizenship revocation since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. In most cases authorities provided no information regarding the reasons for the revocation.
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of protecting refugees. A 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and UNHCR, renewed in 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find them a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and the government generally did not force refugees to return to their country of origin. As of 2014, authorities required all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.
Several of the country’s border crossings with Syria were closed to new refugee arrivals. The Nassib border crossing with Syria reopened in October 2018 after remaining closed to all traffic for three years, although the Rukban border crossing remained closed. The government determined it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area on the Jordanian side of the border. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remained in effect.
In January the government halted all UNHCR registrations of new non-Syrian refugee asylum seekers. Citing misuse of medical, business, and other visas, the cabinet prohibited registration of non-Syrian refugees pending a government review of registration processes and procedures. As of September the halt in registrations affected more than 4,500 pending refugee cases, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, and Yemen.
Employment: Since 2016, the government had issued more than 153,000 work permits to Syrians, 21 percent of which were issued to refugees residing in refugee camps. More than 30,000 of these work permits remained active.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continued to work in the informal economy. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market, and due to the difficulty in obtaining documentation and work permits and expenses involved in seeking work authorization, many worked in the unofficial labor market.
During the year the Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted Syrian refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month.
Some residents of Jordan of Palestinian descent, such as those referred to as “Gazans” for short, do not have Jordanian citizenship. To accommodate this population, authorities issued Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza two-year temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers, which functioned as travel documents and provided these refugees with permanent residency in Jordan. Without a national identity number, however, Palestinian refugees from Gaza were unable to fully access national support programs and found themselves excluded from key aspects of health and social services support. Those refugees from Gaza who were not registered refugees with UNRWA also experienced restrictions and hindrances in accessing education, obtaining driving licenses, opening bank accounts, and purchasing property.
Access to Basic Services: The government allowed Syrian and other UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. In March the government reduced the fees for Syrian refugees to the same rate as uninsured Jordanians for access to primary and secondary medical care, and exempted them from paying fees for maternity and childhood care. Other non-Syrian refugees, however, continued to pay the foreigner’s rate for health care, a cost unaffordable to most refugees.
The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the 2018-19 academic year, authorities had not fully completed this objective, and an estimated 83,900 Syrians were still not receiving formal or informal education. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools. Public schools, particularly in the north of the country, were overcrowded, and some schools operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. The government increased the number of double-shift schools to allow additional Syrian refugee students to obtain formal education. Through September more than 134,000 refugee students were enrolled for the 2018-19 school year.
For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program for refugee students between the ages of nine and 12. Children age 13 and older who were not eligible to enroll in formal education could also participate in nonformal education drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education. A total of 17,575 children benefitted from certified nonformal education in 2018.
Some refugee children continued to face barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and teachers, or child labor.
Palestinian refugees from Gaza and other non-West Bank areas who entered the country following the 1967 war were not entitled to services, including access to public assistance and higher education. Earlier refugees from Gaza, who came to Jordan between June 1946 and May 1948, were eligible to receive UNRWA services.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country. Iraqi and other non-Syrian refugees accrued fines for overstaying their visit permits. Refugees must pay or settle the fines and penalties prior to receiving an exit visa from Jordan and face a five-year ban from re-entry into Jordan.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law does not provide citizens the ability to choose their executive branch of government. The king appoints and dismisses the prime minister, cabinet, and upper house of parliament; can dissolve parliament; and directs major public policy initiatives. Citizens have the ability to choose the lower house of parliament in generally credible periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. Citizens also elect 97 of the 100 mayors, most members of governorate councils, and all members of municipal and local councils. While the voting process was well run, official obstacles to political party activity and campaigning limited participation. International organizations continued to have concerns about the gerrymandering of electoral districts. The cabinet, based on the prime minister’s recommendations, appoints the mayors of Amman, Wadi Musa (Petra), and Aqaba, a special economic zone. Elections for the lower house of parliament took place in 2016. Elections for mayors, governorate councils, and municipal councils took place in 2017.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. Some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year there were some investigations into allegations of corruption but very few convictions. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread.
The Jordan Integrity and Anticorruption Commission (JIACC) is the main body responsible for combating corruption, and the Central Bank’s Anti-Money Laundering Unit is responsible for combating money laundering. Despite increased investigations, some local observers questioned the JIACC’s effectiveness due to its limited jurisdiction, insufficient staff, and the small number of investigations involving senior officials or large government projects. There were credible allegations that the commission failed to investigate cases involving high-level government officials. In July parliament amended the integrity and anticorruption law to give the JIACC more authority to access asset disclosure filings. The amendment empowers the JIACC to request asset seizures, international travel bans, and suspension of officials under investigation for corruption. The amendment also increases the JIACC’s administrative autonomy by enabling the commission to update its own regulations and protecting JIACC board members and the chairperson from arbitrary dismissal.
Corruption: In March the SSC began the trial of 54 defendants accused of illegal production and smuggling of tobacco. In December 2018 the government announced it had extradited from Turkey the key suspect in the case, businessman Awni Motee, who fled the country before being arrested in 2018. In January the SSC prosecutor ordered the detention of a former customs department director and former minister of water and irrigation as well as four serving officials linked to the case. The case continued at year’s end.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain government officials, their spouses, and dependent children to declare their assets privately to the Ministry of Justice within three months of their assuming a government position. Officials rarely publicly declared their assets. Authorities blocked efforts by transparency activists to identify officials publicly who did not declare their assets. In the event of a complaint, the chief justice or JIACC officials may review the disclosures. Under the law failure to disclose assets could result in a prison sentence of one week to three years or a fine of five to 200 JD ($7 to $280). No officials were punished for failing to submit a disclosure.