Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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.
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government limited this right. Security forces generally permitted demonstrations and provided security at announced demonstrations.
Protestors demonstrated, burning tires and blocking roads in southern Jordan on July 17 through 19, following the July 17 military tribunal conviction of soldier Maarek Abu Tayeh, who killed three foreign armed forces members in November 2016. Members of the Abu Tayeh family and Huweitat tribe staged a series of tribal conferences following the verdict. They also organized a caravan from al-Jafr to Amman, where police met and searched them. Approximately 60 vehicles continued to Amman and peacefully protested in several locations. Security officials dispersed the protesters without casualties.
In June 2016 authorities forcefully dispersed a weeks-long protest in the central town of Dhiban. The government detained three individuals for attempted murder, resisting arrest, firing live ammunition in the air, and insulting the king. Charges remained pending.
The law requires a 48-hour notification to the governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. Several local and international NGOs reported that hotels required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding training, private meetings, or public conferences. The government denied authorization for several events. Without letters of approval from the government and security services, hotels cancelled the events and trainings. In some cases NGOs relocated the events and training to private offices. Authorities denied permission to the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (which is not legally registered as an association or NGO by the government) and the Islamic Action Front (a legally registered political party) to hold meetings and events on several occasions throughout the country.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development to reject applications to register an organization or to permit any organization to receive foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives the ministry significant control over the internal management of associations, including the ability to dissolve associations, approve boards of directors, send government representatives to any board meeting, prevent associations from merging their operations, and appoint an auditor to examine an association’s finances for any reason. The law requires associations to inform the ministry of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances for board members from the interior ministry. The law includes penalties, including fines up to 10,000 JD ($14,000), for violations of the regulations. During 2015 the Ministry of Social Development introduced an application form for the approval process for associations that receive foreign funding. Associations criticized the procedure, which incorporated additional ministries into the decision process and removed the deadline for review of funding requests. NGOs stated the registration process and foreign funding procedures were neither clear, transparent, nor consistently applied. Groups attempting to register experienced months of delays, and those who authorities denied their applications complained that they received inadequate explanations.
During the year NGOs reported that the government sometimes rejected NGO authorization requests to receive foreign funding. As of August 30, the ministry received 8,280 applications for foreign funding. The government approved 124 applications. NGO contacts reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued.
The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development to intervene in NGO activities. As of August 30, the ministry issued warnings to 37 NGOs. Warned NGOs are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.
The Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Supply alleged that the CDFJ violated foreign funding restrictions and ordered the CDFJ to halt receipt of any foreign funding. After conducting an audit, the ministry concluded the CDFJ should have been registered as a nonprofit, rather than a civil company, and subject to foreign funding limits and additional controls. In October the general prosecutor charged the chief executive officer of the CDFJ with violation of two articles of the Companies Law. The CDFJ denied any wrongdoing, noting it operated as a civil company since 1998 and cooperated with government institutions on numerous projects.
Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations and their internal meetings.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions.
The UN reported that the government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: The government placed some restrictions on the free internal movement of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. The country’s land border with Syria has been closed to new refugee arrivals since June 2016. From March to June 2016, the government admitted 21,300 Syrian asylum seekers from the northeastern border where tens of thousands of Syrians had begun to gather. The government accommodated the admitted asylum seekers in a fenced-off section of Azraq camp pending additional security screening, since it believed many fled from areas controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). From March to June 2016, after a suicide attack at the border crossing killed seven members of the Jordanian border guard force, authorities cleared approximately 5,000 persons and transferred them from the fenced-off section. From July 2016 to July 31, authorities transferred an additional 6,000 persons from the secured section of the camp. Approximately 1,000 Syrian refugees remained in detention-like conditions pending security checks.
In October 2016 the government closed Cyber City, a refugee camp in a restricted government facility in Ramtha, and moved the camp population, including Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS), to King Abdullah Park refugee camp, where PRS accounted for 316 of the 526 Syrian refugees. Authorities required Palestinian residents of King Abdullah Park to obtain a leave permit, which was not regularly granted, to visit their relatives in Jordan. Authorities made some exceptions for the sick and elderly to allow twice-monthly visits. Unlike Syrian refugees at Cyber City and King Abdullah Park, PRS were not entitled to the bailout system of a Jordanian guarantor. Authorities did not officially inform PRS of the reasons for their restricted movement.
Foreign Travel: Activists alleged authorities imposed travel bans against citizens.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government forcibly returned Syrian refugees and PRS, including women, children, war-injured persons, and persons with disabilities, to Syria. International organizations reported that the government forcibly returned to Syria some refugees residing in the country’s host communities and camps for alleged security concerns.
Syrian refugees faced an increasing risk of deportation since the start of the year. The main reasons reported were allegations of communicating with and sending money to relatives who are in ISIS-controlled territories in Syria, although some incidents of refoulement were not related to security concerns. Authorities most often sent those subjected to refoulement to Dara’a Province, where many had no support network or way to return across battle lines to their homes, which were often within areas controlled by the regime or ISIS.
Through August the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of six cases of refoulement of 30 PRS. The vulnerability of PRS to deportation increased their risk of other abuses. For those who entered the country irregularly (without required documentation, or using Syrian identity documents), refoulement was a constant risk, and access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents, the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–was highly complex. UNRWA reported that such activities could result in forced return to Syria, as well as detention and denaturalization.
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 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 identification card.
The government declared it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after the June 2016 suicide attack, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area. International organizations reported that between 45,000 and 50,000 Syrians settled at the northeast desert Jordan-Syria border throughout the year. Other refugees faced questioning at formal entry points, and authorities refused entry to many of them. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remained in effect throughout the year.
Employment: In February 2016 the government announced it would allow Syrian refugees access to the formal labor market and committed to providing 50,000 opportunities for Syrians during the year. To date the Ministry of Labor issued nearly 60,000 work permits to Syrians, although many of the permits were renewals so substantially fewer than 60,000 Syrian refugees had work permits during the year. The government took several steps to expand and facilitate the issuance of work permits, including waiving fees and offering extended amnesties for those working illegally to regularize status. The government also revised work permit practices to allow Syrian workers in the agricultural and construction sectors to switch employers under the supervision of agricultural cooperatives and a trade union, rather than requiring new work permits for each job transfer.
There continued to be delays in implementing procedures at Ministry of Labor offices in governorates outside Amman. There was uncertainty among the refugee population regarding how to apply for the work permits, or whether they would lose eligibility for UNHCR assistance if they entered the legal workplace. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continued to work in the informal economy. A government-commissioned study on migrant workers, published in July 2016, estimated that 26 percent of Syrian refugees were economically active in the Jordanian labor market. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market, and, due to the difficulties and expenses involved in seeking work authorization, many worked in the unofficial labor market.
The UN reported that Syrian refugees working informally were no longer deported or sent to the refugee camps when caught working without authorization. During the year the Ministries of Interior and Labor in coordination with the UN permitted 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 one day per month. As of August 28, the government issued slightly more than 1,000 work permits to Syrians in Za’atri camp.
Longstanding Palestinian refugees with Jordanian identity documents were well integrated into the Jordanian workforce. This was not the case, however, for the 154,881 Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza, who were not eligible for Jordanian citizenship and unable to work legally or access public services. Additionally, according to UNRWA, authorities deprived PRS, the majority of whom were without Jordanian documents, of the opportunity to work.
Access to Basic Services: The government allowed Syrian and other UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. Since 2014 authorities have charged Syrian refugees for health care at the same rates as uninsured Jordanians, who pay a nominal fee for most basic health services. Iraqi and other refugees must pay the foreigner’s rate for health care. The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children, and in 2016 the minister of education announced that all school-age Syrian refugees should have access to education by the end of the year. As of August this objective was not accomplished. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools. Public schools, particularly in the north of the country, were overcrowded and operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate the high number of students. The government doubled the number of double-shift schools to allow an additional 50,000 Syrian refugee students access to formal education on top of the 126,000 enrolled in 2016. For those not eligible to access formal education, because they have been out of school for three years or more, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program to reach another 25,000 students between the ages of nine and 12. As of July 12, 6,127 Syrian refugee children (51 percent girls) had access to the formal school system in both camp and host community settings. In host communities authorities registered 91,031 Syrian refugee children in school, including at the 198 double-shifted schools. In the camps 35,096 children attended 46 schools in 17 school complexes. In July the Ministry of Education opened 49 schools and provided summer classes for 3,593 Syrian children who had not registered on time to attend the first semester of the 2016-17 academic year.
Children over the age of 12, who are not eligible to enroll in formal education, could participate in a Ministry of Education-run informal education dropout program. These three initiatives extended educational opportunities to nearly all school-age Syrian refugees. Some Syrian children continued to face barriers to attending public schools, including no transportation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and/or teachers, or child labor. Refugees had equal access to justice regardless of their legal status, but did not always exercise this right.
The government excluded Palestinian refugees from Gaza who entered the country following the 1967 war from services otherwise available to Palestinian refugees, such as access to public assistance or public medical services. They were eligible to receive UNRWA services.
Temporary Protection: The government also 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.
Only the father can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children. Children of female citizens married to noncitizen husbands receive the nationality of the father and lose the right to attend public school or seek other government services if they do not hold legal residency, for which they must apply every year, and authorities do not assure continued residency. In guidelines announced by the government in 2014, if children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including access to free primary and secondary education and subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a Jordanian driver’s license; and have employment priority over other foreigners. The minister of interior stated that this ruling affected tens of thousands of families, including hundreds of thousands of children, in which the father lacked Jordanian citizenship. An estimated 55,000 of these fathers were Palestinians. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. To qualify, applicants must prove the maternal relationship, that the Jordanian mother has been resident in the country for five years, and that the children currently reside in the country. In April 2016 the Civil Status Bureau began issuing identification cards to replace the initial certificates. By law the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.
Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after fulfilling a requirement that they maintain continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application. Activists did not identify any obstacles standing in the way of naturalization for men who fulfilled this residency requirement.
Syrian refugees were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for children born in the country if they could not present an official marriage certificate or other nationality documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when they fled, or confiscated by government authorities when the refugees entered the country. Refugee households headed by women faced difficulty in certifying nationality of offspring in absence of the father, which increased the risk of statelessness among this population. Civil registry departments and sharia courts in the Za’atri and Azraq camps helped refugees register births.