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Executive Summary

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 a 130-member popularly elected House of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwwab) and a Senate (Majlis al-Ayan) appointed by the king. Elections for the House of Representatives occur approximately every four years and last took place in November 2020. Local nongovernmental organizations reported some COVID-19-related disruptions during the election process but assessed voting was generally free and fair.

The Public Security Directorate has responsibility for law enforcement and reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Public Security Directorate and the General Intelligence Directorate share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The General Intelligence Directorate reports directly to the king. The armed forces report administratively to the minister of defense and have a support role for internal security. There is no separate Ministry of Defense; the prime minister also serves as defense minister. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment in government facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including the existence of criminal libel laws and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceable assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and other harmful practices; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association (such as threats against labor activists).

Government impunity for human rights abuses remained, although the government took some limited steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses. Information on the outcomes of these actions was not publicly available for all cases. The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials engaged in public corruption. A former cabinet minister and agency head were separately convicted on corruption-related offenses, but limited transparency during investigations and trials contributed to popular perceptions of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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 expression and press, and used the antiterrorism 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. The government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting several 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.

Convicted lawyer Firas al-Rousan began a hunger strike in Qafqafa prison on February 17 to demand a retrial. A court convicted al-Rousan of “offensive speech against the king and defaming a government body” in 2020. He refused to take his prescribed medication and said he would strike until “either death or release” from prison. Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the prison on March 7 in solidarity after his son reported to human rights organizations that al-Rousan’s health had deteriorated. On March 10, the minister of justice approved al-Rousan’s request to appeal his sentence before the Court of Cassation. The appeal remained pending at year’s end.

In late April the judiciary rejected the appeals of Layla Hadidoun, Mohammad Seriwa, and Bakr al-Qatawneh for alternative sentencing. The three were charged in connection with posts they published on social media in solidarity with the Teachers’ Union (TU), which the government shut down in July 2020.

On August 31, police officers arrested activist Moaz Wahsha after Minister of Agriculture Khaled Hanifat filed charges against him for social media posts criticizing the agriculture ministry’s failure to provide sufficient help to farmers. Wahsha was administratively detained by the governor of Ajloun and was released on September 12.

Authorities arrested Ahmad Tabanja al-Kinani, an activist in the tribal movement known as hirak, in August 2020 on several charges, including “incitement,” under the antiterrorism and cybercrimes laws. Al-Kinani’s charges stemmed from comments he made in support of the TU and his documentation of police use of force during TU protests. Al-Kinani spent almost one year in solitary confinement, six months of which were prior to his being officially charged. The NCHR visited al-Kinani in prison multiple times and was unable to ascertain why his treatment had been disproportionally harsh compared with others arrested under the cybercrimes law. Authorities also refused the NCHR’s request to end al-Kinani’s solitary confinement. Al-Kinani was released on bail on July 4 after his attorney told the media that 13 prior bail requests had been denied.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. There were many daily newspapers. Observers considered several to be independent of the government, including al-Sabeel, 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 on media, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering ongoing security operations, 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. Defense orders mandated to combat the spread of the pandemic required previously independent journalists to register with the Press Syndicate for permits to cover events in person. The Press Syndicate is legally independent from the government; however, some members alleged government interference in its activities.

Local and foreign journalists operating in the country continued to experience increased restrictions on their reporting in the form of gag orders, harassment by security forces, and withholding of permits to report. On January 11, authorities deported Salim Akash, a Bangladeshi freelance journalist residing in Jordan. Akash’s residency permit for a nonjournalism-related job in Jordan expired in April 2020, the same month he was taken into custody. According to Reporters Without Borders, Akash was arrested following the publication of an article critical of conditions for Bangladeshi workers in Jordan and was informed only that he had “broken an important law.”

The law grants authority to the head of the Media Commission to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. The commission continued granting 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 commission 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.

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 commission banned the distribution of 39 books for religious and moral reasons, including sexual content or promotion of violence and extremism, as of October.

The government has a majority of seats on the board of 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 Ministry of Trade and Industry licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation. A high-level press official said media professionals were less likely to cover sensitive topics due to fear of arrest, which significantly reduced the quality of journalism. The Center for Defending the Freedoms of Journalists (CDFJ), a local NGO, documented 111 violations against journalists and reported a decline in media freedom attributed primarily to the application of the defense law and associated defense orders. In May an alGhad journalist was forcibly expelled from the airport after attempting to livestream the arrival of Jordanian students who had been stranded abroad during the pandemic.

According to the CDFJ, abuses against journalists were generally characterized as minor, with few exceptions. Grave abuses (physical attacks) tended to occur when journalists attempt to cover protests. Some political commentators attributed this phenomenon to the lack of policies regulating law enforcement’s interactions with civilians during crises. The CDFJ attributed the decline in specific cases of violations to the government’s denial of access to journalists, as well as self-censorship.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists. In 2020, authorities arrested Roya TV’s general manager, Fares Sayegh, and news director Mohammad Alkhalidi following a news report on Roya News’ website and social media pages highlighting workers’ complaints concerning 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. As of October, one of their three cases remained pending with the SSC.

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 topics, including political opposition based abroad and the LGBTQI+ community. NCHR representative Nahla al-Momani said in 2020 that the defense orders increased self-censorship by journalists and made it nearly impossible for journalists to cover major events since the start of the pandemic.

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. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent 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. Gag orders are often used in politically or socially sensitive cases that have caught public attention. Public prosecutors can issue these orders under the pretext of not “affecting the course of justice” or disclosing investigation information. One gag order covered the closure of the TU and detention of its leadership in July 2020, which continued throughout the year. A second gag order involved the Prince Hamzah-related sedition case in April, and a third was issued in November on news publications regarding the prime minister’s family (see libel/slander section below). 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 prosecutor handling the case of a 16-year-old boy whose hands were cut off and eyes were gouged out (see section 6) issued a gag order restricting the publication of any news related to the attack and court procedures, although television networks nevertheless interviewed the victim. The Media Commission also bans publication of any reports concerning the armed forces outside of statements made by the armed forces’ spokesperson.

On April 8, the state-owned Jordan Radio and Television Corporation (JRTC) cancelled a Jordan TV comedy series, Um al-Darahem (Mother of Dirhams), reportedly due to its inclusion of politically sensitive topics. The show, which had been scheduled for broadcast during Ramadan, portrayed a corrupt village head who manipulated villagers to seize their money and lands. The show’s lead actor and crew criticized JRTC’s decision as censorship. Separately, member of parliament Mohammad al-Fayez filed a criminal complaint against the Watan Ala Watar (Homeland on a Tendon) series on privately owned Roya TV, claiming an episode broadcast by the station mocked Bedouin appearance and hospitality customs.

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 JD 2,000 ($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. The law places the burden of proof for defamation on the complainant. Defamation is also a criminal offense. 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.”

In April a court sentenced Athar al-Dabbas to one year in prison for saying her father was better than the king. Dabbas’s sentencing sparked backlash on social media and stimulated public debate on freedom of expression. Authorities withdrew the prison sentence after the king personally called Dabbas to pardon her.

After activist Kamil al-Zoubi posted claims in late October that the wife of Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh received a large salary from the government, police officers arrested al-Zoubi, and prosecutors charged him with defaming a state entity and spreading false news. Al-Zoubi supporters held demonstrations and vigils to call for his release. In November officials announced a media gag order. Khasawneh dropped the complaint on November 18.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security in addition to counterterrorism laws to restrict criticism of government policies and officials. Human Rights Watch argued activists were often charged with terrorism-related crimes that had definitions so vague they could be applied to nearly any political speech or behavior the government dislikes.

In December 2020 a State Security Court (SSC) prosecutor ordered alwakaai news site editor Jamal Haddad detained for 15 days. Prosecutors charged Haddad with publishing false information and causing public disorder under the terrorism prevention law by suggesting government officials secretly received COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the public. The Jordan Press Association called for Haddad’s immediate release, objected to the case’s referral to the SSC, and demanded the case be sent to the civilian judiciary under the press and publications law. Haddad was released on bail in December 2020. At year’s end his case was still pending.

Prosecutors dropped in January a 2020 case against political cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, whom authorities detained for publishing in a United Kingdom periodical a caricature critical of United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and the Abraham Accords the UAE signed with Israel.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: In mid-November the royal court issued a decree approving a special pardon for 155 individuals convicted of lese-majeste between December 2018 and November 2021. The law does not allow special pardons for cases pending a final verdict.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In addition the defense orders enacted in 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19 provided the prime minister with temporarily expanded civil powers that were used to curtail the rights of activists and journalists.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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 temporary restrictions on travel between governorates.

In-country Movement: The government placed some restrictions on the free internal movement of registered Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. Residents of refugee camps were required to apply for permission to relocate from or temporarily depart the camp for family visits or work, limiting their freedom of movement. The pandemic significantly reduced the likelihood of obtaining such permission.

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 43,493 individuals, including 9,711 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated 790 refugees to Azraq camp during the year, including 469 to Village 5 for security reasons. The refugees who were forcibly relocated to Village 5 were not officially informed of the reasons for their relocation or given the opportunity to access legal remedies or assistance prior to their relocation. Residents of Village 5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance, to a clinic providing comprehensive health services inside the Village, and to the hospital within Azraq camp if escorted by police. To access the broader camp facilities, Village 5 residents were required to submit a request to security officials.

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, with the pandemic slowing the process even further. NGOs reported only 93 individuals left Village 5 during the year, compared with 1,185 in 2019, leading to a growing resident population lacking freedom of movement within and outside the camp. NGOs reported nearly half of Village 5 residents had been there for more than three years. Residents of Village 5 were subject to additional nontransparent criteria that restricted approval of requests to depart the camp.

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.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees in most cases.

In 2019 the government effectively halted UNHCR’s registrations of any person arriving in Jordan on a medical, tourism, study, or work visa. As of September the halt in registrations affected more than 5,500 individuals, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, 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. With the COVID-19 pandemic and temporary closures of the centers, the government decided 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.

Hundreds of PRS and other refugees resided in King Abdullah Park, an unused fenced public space in Irbid Governorate repurposed since 2016 to house PRS, mixed Syrian-PRS families, and some individuals of other nationalities who arrived from Syria. Refugees in the park were exposed to a wide range of vulnerabilities, including but not limited to overcrowding and lack of space. The camp did not meet international standards, lacked several essential facilities, and had only one small shop to obtain daily necessities. PRS residing there were not able to pay residency fees to the Ministry of Interior to obtain legal status, without which they lacked access to formal livelihood opportunities.

PRS illegally residing outside of camps usually 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 did not provide information concerning 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. 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. Syrians may not enter Jordan without prior approval from the Ministry of Interior or a valid residency permit in a third country. Syrians staying in Jordan as refugees may visit Syria for a short period without losing their status in Jordan if they obtain permission in advance from the Ministry of Interior to reenter Jordan.

The Rukban border crossing between Jordan and Syria remained closed, and the government continued to restrict humanitarian access to the area, which it considers a “closed military zone.” The Jaber-Nassib border crossing with Syria was periodically closed and reopened throughout the year as a preventive measure related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In October it reopened for passenger movements; commercial traffic was sporadic.

Employment: Since 2016 the government issued more than 239,000 work permits to UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees, with 94.5 percent of these work permits issued to men. Most of these work permits, which grant access to sectors “open” to foreign labor, were no longer valid. Work permit issuance continued to fall during the year, in part due to COVID-19 mitigation measures that shut key areas of the economy for prolonged periods and kept camp employment offices closed.

Formal work for UNHCR-registered non-Syrian refugees was not permitted. Non-Syrian refugees seeking work permits were required to renounce their registration with UNHCR. Although this renunciation resulted in a number of deportation orders, with some individuals, primarily Yemenis, placed in detention, there were no known reports of deportation for labor-law infractions.

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. The pandemic-related suspension of work permits in both Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps for the first six months of the year resulted in job losses among camp residents previously employed outside the camp but unable to return to work despite businesses reopening across the country. Problems with leave permit validity reportedly limited the ability of some refugees to accept potential opportunities once work permit issuance resumed. UNHCR and local NGOs reported unemployment for women and youth remained at concerning levels.

Some Jordan residents of Palestinian descent, such as those referred to as “ex-Gazans” for short, do not hold Jordanian citizenship. To accommodate this population of 174,000 individuals, authorities issued registration cards, which provided permanent residency and served as personal identity documents, and temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers. Without a national identity number, however, Palestinian refugees from Gaza were unable to access national support programs and were excluded from key aspects of health and social service support, although they were able to access UNRWA services.

Access to Basic Services: The government continued to provide access to free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children. As of the end of the 2020-21 academic year, however, an estimated 50,650 Syrians and 21,540 non-Syrians remained out of school due to financial challenges, transportation costs, child labor, early marriage, bullying by fellow students and teachers, and administrative challenges. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools, and some nationalities faced documentary requirements as barriers to entry.

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 without official refugee status and 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 accrue fines for overstaying their visit permits and must pay or settle the fines and penalties prior to receiving an exit visa. They then face a five-year ban from reentry 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 maintaining continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Approval of such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.

Many Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration due to refugees’ lack of identity documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when the bearers fled Syria or were 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 has 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 Zaatari and Azraq camps helped Syrian refugees register births.

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