Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
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 al–Ghad 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.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
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.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
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. 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. NGOs were able to conduct their activities more freely when using videoconferencing software due to authorities’ inability to censor these online platforms.
Protests regarding economic policies; corruption; Israeli actions in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; and government ineffectiveness occurred across the country throughout the year. Protests by activists were few and quickly shut down by security forces, following the imposition of public health-related government emergency defense orders and restrictions on gatherings of more than 20 persons to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Small-scale, peaceful demonstrations took place on March 24 in Amman, Madaba, Irbid, Ramtha, and Mafraq to mark the 10th anniversary of the Arab Awakening and to protest corruption and the defense law. Although protests ended prior to the 7 p.m. curfew, authorities used tear gas to disperse protesters in some areas. A press freedom advocate noted security personnel turned away journalists attempting to cover some of the protests. Several detained activists announced an open-ended hunger strike to highlight the arrests and the clamping down on freedom of expression. Authorities released some detainees on March 25 and more in small groups through the month’s end. On August 18, the Madaba First Instance Court sentenced 16 detained activists to three months each in prison on charges of illegal assembly. Their appeal remained pending as of the end of October.
In May protesters demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinians at the al-Kalouti Mosque for several consecutive days during a period of Israeli-Palestinian clashes. During at least one evening protest, security forces clashed with and arrested protesters, including a Jordan Today press official. A PSD spokesperson said security forces responded to protesters bypassing the security cordon and heading towards the Israeli embassy. Activist Hiba Abu Taha was arrested during the demonstrations while filming the arrests (see section 2.a.). A PSD spokesperson stated an investigation was opened into police misconduct during the demonstration. After a Gaza ceasefire was reached on May 21, thousands of Jordanians rallied in the streets in celebration. Despite regulations mandating masks, social distancing, and groups of fewer than 20 persons, protesters were allowed to gather without interference from security services. Activists commented on the perceived double standards employed by the government when implementing the defense orders, allowing individuals to gather and protest when it suited their interests and dispersing demonstrations when it did not.
On June 21, authorities administratively arrested teacher Ramez al-Batran for his activism on behalf of the Irbid TU branch. The deputy governor of Irbid, Qabalan al-Sharif, released al-Batran from Bab al-Hawa prison without charges or bail on June 24. Prior to his release from administrative detention, authorities ordered al-Batran to sign a pledge not to participate in any future TU demonstrations (see section 7.a.).
On August 8, authorities arrested approximately 30 teachers, including former TU head Nasser Nawasrah and other former TU board members, as they were traveling to the town of Karak to participate in a sit-in. Sit-in participants claimed security forces closed roads and pressured teachers to sign pledges not to join the sit-in. All detained teachers were released without charges the same day they were detained. Nawasrah and other council members were arrested and released several times throughout the year.
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 specific locations. In such situations police occasionally used tear gas.
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, Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs, 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.
Although the Ministry of Social Development instituted an automated system in 2020 for reviewing foreign fund transfers to local NGOs, it continued to accept paper applications. Some local NGOs reported applications were processed in under 30 days as required by law, while other NGOs continued to claim officials reviewing the foreign fund transfers applied arbitrary criteria to delay or reject their fund transfer applications, effectively shutting down several NGOs. Some NGOs reported that unexplained, monthslong delays in the decision process continued and that there was no formal process to appeal nontransparent decisions. On February 21, the local office of Journalists for Human Rights closed. Country Director Mohammad Shamma said restrictions on foreign funding led to the local office’s inability to remain operational. Another NGO reported being forced to lay off staff due to continued government intervention and foreign funding application rejections and monthslong delays. NGOs reported the drawn-out approval process for even uncontentious projects and foreign funding was stifling civil society.
In April a local NGO released the results of a survey of local NGOs’ experiences with official registration and foreign funding procedures. Despite the rollout of a new foreign funding mechanism in early 2020, more than two-thirds of NGOs receiving foreign funding reported the government had rejected their applications for receipt of foreign funds, and only one-fifth reported being informed of the reasons for rejection. Nearly all surveyed NGOs called for further reform to the foreign funding regulations.
To avoid the registration and foreign funding processes, civil society organizations sought alternative solutions, including registering as for-profit companies or international NGOs.
Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations, and that security services monitored political and civil society conferences and meetings.
f. Protection of Refugees
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.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, although the government did not implement the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. Authorities began showing an increased willingness to open public corruption investigations in recent years. Courts convicted a former minister of public works and housing, customs director general, and several local elected officials in separate trials during the year. The use of family, business, and other personal connections to advance personal economic interests was widespread.
In February the king sent an open letter to the GID director stating that because civilian oversight institutions and the judicial system had “stepped up to their constitutional and legal responsibilities,” the GID should focus solely on national security.
Activists and journalists found it difficult to access government reporting and statistics. They attributed the lack of access to ineffective record keeping and the government’s withholding information from the public. In September the NCHR stated freedom to access information was pivotal to promoting human rights and called for penalties for individuals who impede the public from obtaining information or who intentionally destroy it.
Corruption: On September 29, the SSC issued verdicts in a case related to the illegal production and smuggling of tobacco. A three-judge panel convicted 23 defendants and sentenced the chief suspect to 20 years’ imprisonment. The judges also acquitted four defendants and dismissed charges on two defendants who died during the trial. The verdict was subject to appeal at the Court of Cassation. The SSC also imposed fines of JD 179 million ($252 million) on multiple defendants in the case, requiring additional hearings.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Aside from foreigners, there was no resident Jewish community in the country. Anti-Semitism was present in media. Editorial cartoons, articles, and opinion pieces sometimes negatively depicted Jews, without government response. In December 2020 a government university professor publicly denied the Holocaust. The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust and used anti-Semitic tropes. Some private-school curriculums included information on the Holocaust. Increased anti-Semitic hate speech on social media appeared to coincide with escalated tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join trade unions and conduct legal strikes, but with significant restrictions. There is no right to collective bargaining, although the law provides for collective agreements. The law identifies specific groups of public and private-sector workers who may organize. It also defines 17 industries and professions in which trade unions may be established. The law requires that these 17 trade unions belong to the government-linked General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU), the country’s sole trade union federation. The establishment of new unions requires at least 50 founding members and approval from the Ministry of Labor. The law authorizes additional professions to form professional associations on a case-by-case basis.
The government did not fully enforce applicable laws, which were commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Many worker organizations were not independent of the government, and the government influenced union policies and activities. The Ministry of Labor may dissolve any union perceived as violating the labor law.
There were no known reports of threats of violence against union heads, although security services arrested labor activists and reportedly pressured union leaders to refrain from activism that challenged government interests. Strikes generally occurred without advance notice or registration.
In December 2020 the Amman Magistrate’s Court issued a decision to dissolve the TU and imprison council members for one year; all were released shortly thereafter on bail. All public-school teachers belonged to the union, which had approximately 140,000 members.
After its closure the union accused the government of continued legal and administrative pressure against activists. The government forcibly retired more than 120 union-affiliated teachers following a July 2019 crackdown, imposed salary and benefit cuts without written justification, and reassigned dozens of teachers to distant school districts, reportedly in retaliation for union activities. Education International, the American Federation of Teachers, the NCHR, and other organizations condemned authorities’ treatment of union activists. In February the UN high commissioner for human rights expressed concern regarding gag orders imposed on news coverage of the union and encouraged the government to engage in dialogue and promote civic freedoms.
Although union members continued to be entangled in multiple pending court battles, the union and some members won some legal victories during the year. On July 11, the Amman First Instance Court found the union’s former acting head not guilty of spreading false news and incendiary remarks on social media; an appeals court upheld the decision in September. On October 31, an Amman appeals court dismissed a lower court’s March ruling that contributed to the government’s case dissolving the TU. This ruling did not immediately restore the union’s legal status because it was awaiting two other pending cases, as of November.
When conflicts arise during labor negotiations, the law requires that union representatives and employers first attempt to resolve the matter through informal mediation. If a matter remains unresolved, the union is required to request Ministry of Labor-appointed mediation. Ministry-appointed mediators are assigned to cases for up to 21 days. If initial mediation fails, the case is referred to a higher mediation council composed of an employer representative, a labor representative, and a chair appointed by the minister of labor. If the council’s adjudication is unsuccessful, the dispute goes to a labor court with a panel of ministry-appointed judges for 21 days.
The law allows foreign workers to join unions but does not permit them to form unions or hold union office. Authorities did not permit civil servants to form or join trade unions or engage in collective bargaining. No new trade union had been established since 1976. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects workers from employer retaliation for union affiliation or activities. The law does not explicitly provide the right to reinstatement for workers fired due to antiunion views.
There are limits on the right to strike, including a requirement to provide a minimum of 14 days’ notice to the employer. The law prohibits strikes if a labor dispute is under mediation or arbitration. The law prohibits management from arbitrarily dismissing workers engaged in labor activism or arbitration, but enforcement was inconsistent. Labor organizations reported that some management representatives used threats to intimidate striking workers. As of October, 12 workers’ strikes had occurred during the year.
The government subsidized and audited salaries and activities of the GFJTU and monitored union elections. The government denied recognition to independent unions organized outside the structure of the government-approved federation. The government did not meet with these unions, and the lack of legal recognition hampered their ability to collect dues, obtain meeting space, and otherwise address members’ workplace concerns. Labor organizations also reported difficulty getting government recognition for trade unions in new sectors beyond the 17 sectors established in law, in part because new unions would require approval by a tripartite committee in which the existing 17 union heads are represented.
Some foreign workers whose residency permits are tied to work contracts were vulnerable to retaliation by employers for participating in strikes and sit-ins. Participation in a legally unrecognized strike is counted as an unexcused absence under the law. The law allows employers to consider employment contracts void if a worker is absent more than 10 consecutive days, as long as the employer provides written notice. Labor rights organizations reported instances of refusing to renew foreign workers’ contracts due to attempts to organize in the workplace.
Observers noted that the labor code did not explicitly protect unionized and nonunionized workers from retaliation. This was particularly the case for foreign workers in all sectors as well as citizens working as day laborers in the public sector on short-term contracts.
Labor NGOs working to promote the rights of workers generally focused on promoting the rights of migrant workers. Labor NGOs did not face government restrictions in addition to or apart from those discussed in section 2.b.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law generally prohibits forced labor, but there are exceptions in cases related to national emergency and with just remuneration. The law allows for forced prison labor as a punishment. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Labor activists noted that law enforcement and judicial officials did not consistently identify victims or open criminal investigations of forced labor (see section 6). The government inspected garment factories, a major employer of foreign labor, and investigated allegations of forced labor. Forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor also occurred among migrant workers in the domestic work and agricultural sectors. Activists highlighted the vulnerability of agricultural workers due to minimal government oversight. Activists also identified the 48,000 domestic workers in the country (as of October), most of whom were foreign workers, as particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to inadequate government oversight, social norms that excused forced labor, and workers’ isolation within individual homes. Activists further noted cases where domestic workers who used an employer’s telephone to complain to a Ministry of Labor hotline experienced retaliation when the hotline returned the call to their employers. Kafala, the system in which employers sponsor domestic workers’ visas, continued to apply. Under kafala, domestic workers cannot change employers or leave the country without permission from their employer, leaving them vulnerable to forced labor conditions.
In October the government issued regulations requiring recruitment agencies to provide migrant domestic workers with insurance covering medical care and workplace accidents. The law authorizes the Ministry of Labor to rate recruitment agencies publicly based on compliance with the labor law and to close and withdraw the license of poorly ranked agencies. As of August the ministry referred 22 recruitment agencies and transferred 11 domestic-helper complaints to the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU) of the PSD. The minister of labor has the authority to close recruitment agencies with multiple labor violations, based on the recommendation of ministry inspectors.
As of October the Ministry of Labor issued 2,210 verbal and written warnings requiring remedial action in workplaces.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law forbids employment of children younger than age 16, except as apprentices in light work. The law bans those between the ages of 16 and 18 from working in hazardous occupations, limits working hours for such children to six hours per day, mandates one-hour breaks for every four consecutive working hours, and prohibits work after 8 p.m., on national or religious holidays, and on weekends.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
According to a local NGO, Jordanian child laborers work in the car mechanic, cleaning, metalwork, carpentry, and sewing sectors, while Syrian refugee children predominantly work in agriculture, services, and industry. Children also sold goods in the streets and begged in urban areas. The government had limited capacity to monitor children working in the informal sector, such as family businesses and the agricultural sector. NGOs estimated that child laborers younger than 16 numbered approximately 70,000. The government continued a series of campaigns begun in 2020 continuing to combat forced child begging. Throughout the year the PSD detained 12,484 individuals, 45 percent of whom were juveniles. Children were often sent to a shelter for one to three months and subsequently returned to their homes.
The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit was responsible for coordinating government action regarding child labor in collaboration with the National Committee on Child Labor. Authorities referred criminal violations to the magistrate’s penalty court, which handles labor cases. The law provides that employers who hire a child younger than age 16 pay a fine. In addition the government provided shelter, education, and financial services to children engaged in child labor. Children continue to be engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including street work and dangerous tasks in agriculture.
Labor inspectors reportedly monitored cases of legally working children between ages 16 and 18 to issue advice and guidance, provide safe work conditions, and cooperate with employers to permit working children to attend school concurrently. The Labor Ministry had a zero-tolerance policy for labor of children younger than age 16 and hazardous work for children younger than 18.
Although the Ministries of Labor, Education, and Social Development collaborated with NGOs seeking to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor, activists saw a noticeable increase in child labor due to economic hardships caused by the government’s COVID-19 measures and school closures. Refugee children worked in the informal sector, sold goods in the streets, worked in the agricultural sector, and begged in urban areas.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion; however, labor law does not explicitly prohibit it. The law also does not prohibit discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, based on race, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or refugee and stateless status. It is unclear whether penalties are imposed for discrimination based on sex or disability, or if such penalties are commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference.
The law requires private companies to hire workers with disabilities, forbids employers from firing employees solely because of a disability, and directs employers to make their workplaces accessible to persons with disabilities. Citizens and NGOs, however, reported that persons with disabilities faced problems obtaining employment. In July the employment bylaw went into effect, which provided some employment protection for persons with disabilities.
Some persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination in employment and access to the workplace despite the law’s requirement that any workplace with more than 50 employees have 4 percent or more of its workforce be persons with disabilities. According to the Ministry of Labor, agreements were signed with private-sector companies in June to ensure implementation of the 4-percent requirement and to allow the ministry to conduct inspections. As of October, 120 persons with disabilities had registered on the Ministry of Labor Department for Persons with Disabilities Employment platform during the year to be notified of job opportunities. The ministry, however, lacked the capacity to keep the platform up to date.
A three-year Ministry of Labor program entitled Economic Empowerment and Social Participation of Persons with Disabilities, slated to end in 2020, was extended until the end of the year due to the pandemic. Through the program, 13 instructors were certified to train civil society organizations, private-sector companies, and the public sector. The ministry continued to implement a sign-language program and offer simultaneous interpretation devices across the ministry’s departments. The ministry also allocated funding for its Employment of Persons with Disabilities department.
Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to gender, national origin, and sexual orientation (see section 6).
Working women were largely concentrated in the “socially acceptable” health and education sectors and made up approximately 14 percent of the workforce as of March, according to the Department of Statistics. By law the minister of labor specifies the industries and economic activities that are prohibited for women, as well as the hours during which they are allowed to work. Women are prohibited from working in quarries, construction sites, and other hazardous environments, and are not allowed to work between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. except in hotels, theaters, restaurants, airports, tourism offices, hospitals, clinics, and some transportation industries. Women are generally barred from working between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The minister of labor used regulatory authority in 2019 to suspend profession- and sector-based restrictions for female workers, which continued throughout the year. Evening work for women is limited to 30 days per year and a maximum of 10 hours per day. These restrictions limit job competition in favor of men. The Civil Service Ordinance allocates benefits such as the family allowance and cost of living allowance at a higher level for men than for women.
The law prohibits discrimination in wages based solely on gender and includes protections for flexible and part-time work contracts.
Union officials reported that sectors predominantly employing women, such as secretarial work, offered wages below the official minimum wage. Many women reported traditional social pressures discouraged them from pursuing professional careers, especially after marriage. According to the Department of Statistics, as of the second quarter of the year, unemployment among women holding a bachelor’s degree was 83.4 percent, compared with 31.2 percent for men. The female unemployment rate was 33.1 percent, compared with a male unemployment rate of 22.7 percent and the overall unemployment rate of 24.8 percent.
In 2019 the Ministry of Labor increased the number of professions closed to foreign workers from 11 to 28, with the stated purpose of creating job opportunities in the private sector for Jordanian youth. Professions reserved for citizens include office workers, sales professionals, electricians, security guards, hair stylists, and car mechanics. The decision to close these professions to foreign workers included denying new workers permits and not renewing previously granted foreign worker permits in all closed professions.
According to the employment ministry, Egyptians were the majority of foreign workers in the country and were subject to a sponsorship system, including needing employer clearance to leave the country. Jordan exported highly skilled and educated workers while hosting unskilled migrants to perform lower-level jobs its citizens avoid. NGOs reported foreign workers, including garment workers, agricultural workers, and domestic workers, were especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and verbal and physical assault in the workplace. Lawyers criticized the law on harassment in the workplace, saying it did nothing to hold perpetrators accountable and assisted victims only by allowing them to resign. Domestic workers and Syrians were unable to participate in social security programs.
On June 9, the Ministry of Interior announced that its approval was no longer required for previously deported migrant workers to seek new visas to enter the country. Migrant workers wishing to return after being deported for residency infractions could apply for a visa following a three-year waiting period.
Some migrant workers faced discrimination in wages, housing, and working conditions (see section 7.e.). The informal labor market continued to be the primary sector of employment for refugees. Non-Syrian refugees did not have access to the formal labor market. Syrian refugees were mostly employed in the informal sector due to the limited number of “fee-free” work permits available, the high annual cost of work permits in areas not covered by the fee-free program, and the limited sectors in which refugees were permitted to work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage, per month, which is above the individual poverty line. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. A January increase in the minimum wage excluded migrant workers.
The law sets a workweek of 48 hours and requires overtime pay for hours worked in excess of that level. Because there was no limit on mutually agreed overtime, the Ministry of Labor reportedly permitted employees in some industries, such as the garment sector, to work as many as 70 to 75 hours per week, and observers reported many foreign workers requested overtime work. NGOs reported some instances of forced overtime. As part of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic response, the government announced policies for remote work, reduced wages, and suspension of operations for private-sector companies. The policies included permission for employers to reduce workers’ salaries up to 50 percent in cases where employees could not report to work. As of August the Ministry of Labor received 13,651 employee complaints regarding policies designed to ease the impact of government public health measures on employers.
Employees are entitled to one day off per week. The law provides for 14 days of paid sick leave and 14 days of paid annual leave per year, increasing to 21 days of paid annual leave after five years of service with the same firm. Workers also received additional national and religious holidays designated by the government. The law permits compulsory overtime under certain circumstances, such as conducting an annual inventory, closing accounts, preparing to sell goods at discounted prices, avoiding loss of goods that would otherwise be exposed to damage, and receiving special deliveries. In such cases actual working hours may not exceed 10 hours per day, the employee must be paid overtime, and the period may not last more than 30 days.
Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries in the country, and employers were required to abide by all occupational health and safety standards set by the government. However, enforcement was inconsistent. The law requires employers to protect workers from hazards caused by the nature of the job or its tools, provide any necessary protective equipment, train workers on hazards and prevention measures, provide first aid as needed, and protect employees from explosions or fires by storing flammable materials appropriately. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with the Ministry of Labor’s occupational safety and health experts and not the worker. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and acceptable conditions of work. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. Labor inspectors did not regularly investigate reports of labor abuses or other abuses of domestic workers in private homes, and inspectors cannot enter a private residence without the owner’s permission except with a court order. Employees may lodge complaints regarding violations of the law directly with the Ministry of Labor or through organizations such as their union or the NCHR. The NCHR reported receiving 12 complaints related to labor disputes through November. The ministry opened an investigation for each complaint.
Wage, overtime, safety, and other standards often were not upheld. Some foreign workers faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions in a variety of sectors. Authorities did not effectively protect all employees who attempted to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health and safety. Labor organizations reported that female citizen workers were more likely than men to encounter labor abuses, including wages below the minimum wage and harassment in the workplace.
The government requires garment-exporting manufacturers to participate in the Better Work Jordan (BWJ) program, a global initiative by the ILO and the International Finance Corporation to improve labor standards. All factories required by the government to join BWJ were active members of the program. BWJ expanded its program during the year to include export factories in the plastics, chemicals, and industrial engineering sectors.
In the garment sector, foreign workers were more susceptible than citizens to dangerous or unfair conditions. BWJ stated that reports of coercion decreased during the year. Indebtedness of foreign garment workers to third parties and involuntary or excessive overtime persisted. While the law sets the minimum wage, a substantial portion of the standard monthly minimum wage for foreign workers in the garment industry was used to pay employment placement agencies for food, accommodation, and travel for workers from their home countries, according to an international NGO. In January BWJ launched a two-year initiative to improve the mental health of factory workers in the garment sector, a matter NGOs had raised during 2019 collective bargaining agreement discussions, by training medical providers and Ministry of Health staff who treat factory workers.
Informal Sector: The Ministry of Labor did not consistently inspect and monitor all workplaces or apply all the protections of the labor code for vulnerable workers such as domestic and agricultural workers. Authorities were hampered by barriers to the inspection of homes where domestic workers lived. Labor organizations stated that many freelancing agricultural workers, domestic workers, cooks, and gardeners, most of whom were foreign workers, were not enrolled for social benefits from the Social Security Corporation because only salaried employees were automatically enrolled, and optional enrollment was limited to citizens. Domestic workers face discrimination by nationality in their wages. Although the law was amended in 2008 to extend certain rights to domestic and agricultural workers, the law required that each group be covered by its own legislation.
In June 2020 the Ministry of Labor shut down two textile factories in the town of Karak following complaints of poor working conditions and maltreatment of employees; as of September the two factories remained closed pending court rulings. The 1,500 Jordanian employees of these factories were being paid via a social security program to ease the impact of COVID-19 on the private sector, while 230 Burmese workers were waiting to be deported or relocated to other factories.
On March 14, the government approved a new law to regulate the agricultural sector, preserve workers’ rights, protect against discrimination, and provide workers with coverage under the Social Security Law. For the first time, the law also gives agricultural workers the right to file lawsuits and submit complaints to labor inspectors, have access to the courts, and be exempt from work- or residency-permit fees. Local NGOs said the bylaw fell short of expectations, particularly because it did not address work permits for migrant workers, who make up most of the sector’s workforce. Other NGOs criticized the absence of provisions on maternity leave, childcare, and equal health insurance for female workers in the informal sector. The law does not require farms with three or fewer workers to enroll employees in social security.
Employers reportedly subjected some workers in the agricultural sector, the majority of whom are Egyptians, to exploitative conditions. According to a domestic NGO, agricultural workers usually received less than the minimum wage. Some employers in the agricultural sector confiscated passports. Egyptian migrant workers were also vulnerable to exploitation in the construction industry, where employers usually paid migrant workers less than the minimum wage and failed to uphold occupational health and safety standards.
Domestic workers often faced unacceptable working conditions, working long hours without holidays or days off during the week and not being paid on time. NGOs report employers regularly confiscate passports and other documents. While domestic workers could file complaints in person with the Ministry of Labor’s Domestic Workers Directorate or the PSD, many domestic workers complained there was no follow-up on their cases. The CTU operates a 24-hour hotline, with limited translation capabilities. From January through August, the Ministry of Labor referred 29 cases to the CTU; 104 workers were placed in shelters.
Advocates reported that migrant domestic workers who sought government assistance or made allegations against their employers frequently faced counterclaims of criminal behavior from the employers. Employers could file criminal complaints or flight notifications with police stations against domestic workers. Authorities waived immigration overstay fines for workers deported for criminal allegations or expired work permits. Most fleeing domestic workers reportedly sought to escape conditions indicative of forced labor or abuse, including unpaid wages and, to a lesser extent, sexual or physical abuse. By law employers are responsible for renewing foreign employees’ residency and work permits but often failed to do so for domestic employees. NGOs reported authorities administratively detained domestic workers and other migrant workers and did not inform them of their rights or the reasons for their detention. Legal processes for migrant workers take years and translation services are minimal.
Migrant workers were disproportionately affected by the government’s COVID-19 response. Factory workers contracted the virus at higher rates due to poor health and safety standards and overcrowding, particularly those working in factories in Dalil and Aqaba. Migrant workers are excluded from government programs to offset the effects of the pandemic. Migrant workers are also vulnerable to hate speech and negative stereotypes in print, broadcast, and social media. As of September, the Hemaya online platform the government launched in 2020 to assist foreign workers with their pandemic-related difficulties had received 85,000 complaints on delayed wages and job terminations. Medium and small factories were especially affected by the pandemic; some could not meet commitments to staff, and some cancelled contracts and closed worker dormitories. The government continued its cooperation with foreign embassies to waive overstay fees for migrant domestic workers who wished to repatriate after a two-year stay in the country, a policy that greatly reduced the number of domestic workers stranded at their embassies’ shelters.
In May the Ministry of Labor began to address dormitory conditions of migrant workers in response to complaints. Officials conducted inspections, reported unlicensed dormitories to the Ministry of Justice, and coordinated with BWJ to renovate dormitories.
The informal labor market continues to be the primary sector of employment for refugees. Syrian refugees are mostly employed in the informal sector due to the limited number of “fee-free” work permits available, high annual cost of work permits for work in areas not covered in the fee-free scheme, and limited sectors in which refugees are permitted to work.