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 Anti-Terrorism Law, Cybercrimes Law, Press and Publications Law, and penal code to arrest local journalists.
Freedom of Speech: 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. 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.
In April authorities arrested three activists associated with opposition organizations: Oday Abu Rumman, Ahmad Nuwaifi Khawaldeh, and Hisham Saraheen. Saraheen was released the same day as his arrest. Abu Rumman was released in early May. Khawaldeh was charged with slandering the royal family and for offenses under the Cybercrimes Law.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. There were many daily newspapers. 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 newspapers to be close to the government.
The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restrictions. Media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, on media 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.
In August, Human Rights Watch reported certain local and foreign journalists operating in the country said that over the past few years, they experienced increased restrictions on their reporting in the form of gag orders, harassment by security forces, and withholding of permits to report. In July prosecutors questioned JO24 news website editor Basil Okour after his outlet was accused of publishing articles related to the government’s standoff with the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate in defiance of a prosecutor’s gag order.
The law grants authority to the head of the Media Commission to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. In 2019, 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 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.
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 the 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.
The Media Commission ordered the suspension of Amman-based Iraqi Dijlah TV Satellite channel twice for violating licensing provisions of the Jordanian Audio-Visual Law in January and May by illegally broadcasting from Jordan without a permit. The station was suspended in 2019 for covering the protests in Iraq, according to media sources. The station continued during the suspension to operate online via Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
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. The Media Commission banned 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 Publications Law.
Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.
In its report Under the Curfew … The Status of Media Freedom in the Shadow of the Corona Pandemic, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ), a local NGO, documented 17 specific cases of violations of freedoms against journalists and media organizations between March and June. The CDFJ reported a decline in media freedom this year, attributed primarily to the application of the Defense Law and associated Defense Orders. The CDFJ attributes the decline in specific cases of violations to the government’s denial of access to journalists covering updates and news, as well as self-censorship.
Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists.
Police beat two journalists who covered the Teachers Syndicate protests, in violation of the gag order, according to HRW.
In April, Roya TV’s General Manager Fares Sayegh and News Director Mohammad Alkhalidi were arrested following a news report on Roya News’ website and social media pages highlighting workers’ complaints about the economic impact of the COVID-19 curfew. Prosecutors charged Sayegh and Alkhalidi under the Anti-Terrorism Law. Both were released on bail three days later, and at the end of the year the case remained pending.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media and online activists, reducing the variety of information available on the internet. The government’s efforts to influence journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.
The CDFJ report and journalists noted widespread self-censorship among journalists. Fearing arrest and prosecution, journalists avoided reporting on certain issues, including political opposition based abroad and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.
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. At times, editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. According to media reports, at least two journalists were denied publication of their articles. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. In an opinion poll conducted by the CDFJ, 44 percent of journalists said the government limited information to certain sources, and 41 percent said movement restrictions limited their ability to conduct investigative reporting. Journalists cited the weak financial condition of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered fines of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000) as factors influencing media content.
During the year the Media Commission circulated official gag orders restricting discussion in all media, including social media. One gag order involved the closure of the Teachers Syndicate and detention of its leadership, and a second gag order involved the killing of a woman in a domestic violence case. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved. The Media Commission also bans publication of any reports about the armed forces outside of statements made by the armed forces’ spokesperson.
Libel/Slander Laws: The Cybercrimes Law allows public prosecutors to detain individuals suspected of violating libel and slander laws. Internet users face at least three months in jail and a maximum fine of 2,000 dinars ($2,800) if they are found guilty of defamation on social or online media. 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. The law forbids any insult of the royal family, state institutions, national symbols, or foreign states, as well as “any writing or speech that aims at or results in causing sectarian or racial strife.” Defamation is also a criminal offense.
In March journalist Hiba Abu Taha was detained for criticizing the prime minister on Facebook. She was charged with “prolonging the tongue” (insulting), opposing the political system, and broadcasting false news. Abu Taha was released on bail, but at the end of the year the case remained pending. In May police officers arrested Yarmouk University political science professor Mohammed Turki Bani Salamah on charges of slander, after he alleged three prime ministry staffers corruptly obtained their appointments. Bani Salamah was released a couple of weeks after the three staffers dropped the charges.
National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials.
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. The Press and Publications Law allows the media commissioner to ban websites without a court order.
The Telecommunications Law requires that telecommunications providers take appropriate measures to enable the tracking of user communications upon a judicial or administrative order.
The government continues to order internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to messaging apps on days that secondary school students sit for their national exam (Tawjihi) in order to prevent cheating. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are restricted by some ISPs, such as WhatsApp and Viber, while Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Skype remain accessible.
In February detained activists Bashar al-Rawashdeh and Malek al-Mashagbeh launched hunger strikes while in detention. Rawashdeh was charged with incitement under the Cybercrimes Law for criticizing the U.S. “Vision for Peace” Middle East peace plan on Facebook. He began a hunger strike immediately after his arrest. Mashagbeh was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “lese-majeste” (the crime of insulting the monarch or monarchy), and launched a hunger strike soon after. Another three activists were released earlier in the year following deterioration of their health as a result of hunger strikes.
Authorities continued to block the website of an online lifestyle magazine with an LGBTI target audience on the grounds 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, 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 demanded that 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. Many individuals believed they were unable to express their views fully or freely via the internet, including by personal email.
During the year, according to local and international NGOs, security forces blocked live-streamed videos of protests posted on Facebook.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government placed some limits on academic freedom. Some members of the academic community claimed there was a continuing government intelligence agency 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 administrators must approve all research papers, forums, reading materials, movies, or seminars. Administrators clear potentially controversial material through the GID. Authorities edited commercial foreign films for objectionable content before screening in commercial theaters.
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly but the government sometimes limited this right. Security forces provided security at demonstrations granted permits by government or local authorities.
The law requires a 48-hour notification to the local governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. While not required by law, several local and international NGOs reported that hotels, allegedly at the request of security officials, required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding training courses, private meetings, or public conferences. There were some reported cases of the governor denying approval requests without explanation, according to local and international human rights NGOs. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases, NGOs relocated the events to private offices or residences, and the activities were held without interruption.
Protests regarding economic policies, corruption, and government ineffectiveness occurred across the country throughout the year. The weekly protests by activists that began in 2018 have not been held since March, following the imposition of public health-related government restrictions on gatherings of more than 20 persons to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
On July 25, hundreds of teachers protested in cities across the country after the government suspended the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (the syndicate). Crowds were not as large as in the previous year, but large protests occurred across the country including in Karak, Tafileh, Jerash, and Madaba. Demonstrations were generally peaceful, with a significant presence of Jordanian security forces. The deputy head of the syndicate, Nasser al-Nawasreh, was cited in a HRW report describing his arrest on the Irbid-Amman highway, when he was surrounded by three unmarked vehicles, and a hood was placed over his head. On July 29 in Amman, hundreds of teachers and supporters held another protest against the July suspension order. Security services prevented protestors from reaching their intended destination and videos showed police using batons to beat back demonstrators who attempted to push through cordons. Authorities arrested over 600 persons during the protests; all were released within 24 hours.
On July 22, hundreds of demonstrators held a sit-in in front of parliament to protest violence against women and so-called honor killings in the wake of the “Ahlam” case (see section 6). Despite regulations mandating masks, social distancing, and groups of fewer than 20 persons, protesters were allowed to gather without interference from security services.
Security services and protesters generally refrained from violence during demonstrations. Occasional scuffles occurred when protesters attempted to break through security cordons intended to limit demonstrations to particular locations. In such situations police occasionally used tear gas.
Security services detained political activists for shouting slogans critical of authorities during protests. Some activists were arbitrarily arrested and held without charge, others were charged with insulting the king, undermining the political regime, or slander.
The constitution provides for the right of association but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Supply to approve or reject applications to register organizations and to prohibit organizations from receiving foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives these ministries 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 Social Development of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances from the Interior Ministry for board members. The law includes penalties, including fines, for violation of the regulations. The Ministry of Social Development is legally empowered to intervene in NGO activities and issue warnings for violation of the law. NGOs that receive a warning are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.
In January the Ministry of Social Development instituted a new system for reviewing foreign fund transfers to local NGOs. Local NGOs feedback was mixed; some reported applications were processed in under 30 days as required by the law, while other NGOs claimed officials reviewing the foreign fund transfers applied arbitrary criteria to delay or reject their fund transfer applications. Some NGOs reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued and that there was no formal process to appeal untransparent decisions.
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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions. Restrictions on freedom of movement due to public health measures designed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic included the suspending of regular commercial passenger flights from March through September, though a limited number of repatriation flights were permitted; and temporary restrictions on travel between governorates were implemented.
There were continued reports of forced refugee 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 included “irregular status” (expired registration documents or working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, which were not clearly defined.
As of September, Azraq camp hosted more than 40,000 individuals, including more than 9,000 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. In 2019, NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated more than 3,800 refugees to Azraq camp, including more than 2,300 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 some refugees were permitted to leave Village 5 each month, the process for Village 5 residents to relocate to the larger camp remained irregular and slow; NGOs reported only 1,269 individuals left Village 5 in 2019, leading to a growing resident population which lacked freedom of movement within and outside of the camp. NGOs reported nearly half of Village 5 residents had been there for more than three years.
Civil documents of Palestinian Refugees from Syria (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.
In 2019 the government halted all registrations of new non-Syrian asylum seekers by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), pending a government review of poorly defined registration procedures. As of September, the halt in registrations affected more than 7,000 individuals, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, and Yemen. According to UNHCR, there was no backlog of registration for Syrian refugees, and it was possible for Syrians to register with UNHCR at centers in Amman and Irbid. With the COVID-19 pandemic and temporary closures of the centers, the government decided that it would accept expired documentation in support of refugee and asylum seeker requests for access to services, including health care, until the end of the year.
A number of 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, 578 individuals were held in KAP, of whom 391 were PRS, 145 Syrians, 20 Jordanians, and 22 of other nationalities. Refugees in KAP were exposed to a wide range of vulnerabilities, including but not limited to overcrowding and a lack of space and privacy while using common facilities such as latrines, drinking water sources, and kitchens.
PRS who lacked legal status in Jordan limited their movements to avoid coming into contact with authorities. In addition, some PRS with legal documentation reported delays of up to four years for renewal of their documentation.
For PRS with Jordanian citizenship, potential 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 law does 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 require all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.
The country’s border crossings with Syria remained closed to new refugee arrivals. The Jaber-Nassib border crossing with Syria was partially closed in March for COVID-19 prevention. It remained open for commercial traffic only until August, when it closed completely. The Jaber-Nassib crossing reopened for commercial traffic in September. 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. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remains in effect.
Employment: Since 2016 the government has issued more than 192,000 work permits to UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees, with 95 percent of these work permits being issued to men. More than 28,000 work permits remained active. Syrian refugees are eligible for work permits in a limited number of sectors and occupations. COVID-19 mitigation measures reduced the number of work permits issued to Syrian refugees from 47,766 in 2019 to 23,258 as of September.
Tens of thousands of refugees continued to work in the informal economy. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market due to difficulty in obtaining documentation, ineligibility for work permits, and costs involved in seeking work.
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 Jordan residents of Palestinian descent, such as those referred to as “Gazans” for short, do not have Jordanian citizenship. To accommodate this population of 158,000 individuals, authorities issued two-year temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers to Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza. These functioned as travel documents and provided these refugees with permanent residency in Jordan. Without a national identity number, though, Palestinian refugees from Gaza were unable to access national support programs fully and were excluded from key aspects of health and social service support. Those refugees from Gaza who were not registered with UNRWA also experienced restrictions and hindrances in accessing education, obtaining driving licenses, opening bank accounts, and purchasing property.
Since 2017 the government has gradually introduced Cabinet decisions and associated instructions that have eased some restrictions on “ex-Gazans,” especially those holding an ID and residency card issued by the Ministry of Interior. These new decisions allow the ex-Gazans with IDs to benefit from the “bread cash support” by allowing them to apply for Ministry of Social Development and National Aid Fund support schemes including opening bank accounts, accessing health and education services–although still with higher fees–establishing and registering businesses, and purchasing and registering vehicles and property in their own names.
Access to Basic Services: The government allowed UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. In 2019 the government reduced the fees for Syrian refugees to the same rate as uninsured Jordanians pay for access to primary and secondary medical care, and exempted them from paying fees for maternity and childhood care. During the year, this service was also extended to non-Syrian 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 2019-20 academic year, however, an estimated 50,900 Syrians remained out of school due to financial challenges, transportation costs, child labor, early marriage, and administrative challenges. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools and face documentary requirements as barriers to entry. Public schools were overcrowded, particularly in the north of the country, and 201 schools operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. Through September more than 136,000 Syrian refugee students were enrolled for the 2019-20 school year, representing a 59 percent gross enrollment rate for the K-12 school-aged population.
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 students between the ages of nine and 12. Children age 13 and older who were not eligible to enroll in formal education could participate in informal education through drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education. In 2019, 3,200 Syrian students were enrolled in the Ministry of Education’s informal education program.
Tens of thousands of refugee children faced barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, lack of documentation, 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 are not entitled to receive any UNRWA services, including access to public assistance and higher education. Refugees from Gaza who came to Jordan between June 1946 and May 1948 are eligible to receive UNRWA services.
Access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents and the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–remained highly complex for PRS. These vulnerabilities put undocumented refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.
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.
Only fathers can transmit citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit citizenship to their children, which can lead to statelessness. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father. 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.
A large number of Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration due to refugees’ lack of identity documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when they fled Syria or confiscated by government authorities when they entered the country. 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. The government opened a legal process for such cases to adjust and obtain registration documents. 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 Syrian refugees register births.