Mar 10 2016

Losing post-Arab Spring accomplishments?

Published by at 11:47 am under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

The Independent Federation of Unions in Jordan wanted to hold an event to celebrate International Women’s Day. A hotel hall was booked and invitations were sent out. A few hours before the event organisers were told by the hotel management that they could not hold the event.

It seems that a security official had called the hotel management and ordered them not to allow the event to take place unless the organisers get permission.

When pressed, the hotel director said that the call came from the intelligence department and he gave the organisers the nom de guerre of the officer.

This was not a fluke, one-off interference in activities of civil society.

In the last month alone, tens of non-governmental organisations were surprised by the return to heavy-handed intelligence services interference in public activities, training workshops, conferences and other public events that have been held without intervention for years.

An event by Himam, a local NGO committee coordinating government officials with international donors, was ordered cancelled, only to be allowed after high-level intervention.

The celebrated post-Arab Spring constitutional amendments in support of freedom of assembly and expression appear to be slowly being pulled back.

Among the 43 constitutional changes signed into law by His Majesty King Abdullah in 2011, according to Article 4, Jordanian citizens and organisations are obliged only to inform authorities about holding public events, not get their permission.

The pressure on civil society does not happen in broad daylight.

When Amman Governor Khaled Abu Zeid was contacted by a local radio station to ask him about such practices, he vehemently denied having issued any new directives to hotels requiring prior approval for certain events.

The result is that events are held or denied on a case-by-case basis, with organisations often forced to find a well-placed official to sponsor their events as a means of guaranteeing that they will not be stopped.

Attempts to roll back freedom of assembly are matched with attempts to muzzle opinion.

Jordanian news websites owners were forced to apply for licences to operate as part of the new Press and Publications Law that includes a clause banning the detention or arrest of journalists for what they write.

An amendment to the Cybercrime Law, passed quietly last June, allows the attorney general to detain a journalist for what he writes online.

A journalist is immune for what he writes in print media, but if the same article appears on line he can be imprisoned.

The criminalisation of defamation has given the government a new control tool that allows it to restrict freedom of expression.

The Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists reported that since the implementation of Article 11 of the Cybercrime Law, seven journalists and social media activists have been detained.

Jordanians will not accept the return to the pre-Arab Spring era quietly.

The public engagement by activists is not going to die away because of the underhanded attempts by some in government to bring back restrictions that have been overcome by hard-fought public protests.

Students at the Jordan University are continuing a protest strike that began on February 29 to call for the rescinding recent tuition fee hikes.

A public campaign has been launched by media rights and social media activists, calling for the repeal of Article 11 of the Cybercrime Law.

The campaign aims at informing the public of the controversial article and increase pressure on the government and legislature to stop using detention and imprisonment to deal with issues concerning the constitutional right of free expression.

There are calls to decriminalise defamation and amend the laws so that persons victimised by defamation can seek monetary rewards.

The government should avoid using defamation laws to protect its members from criticism.

Organisations unable to hold public meetings in hotels are turning to wedding parlours to hold their events, as did the Independent Federation of Unions after being denied permission to hold their event in a known hotel.

But the issue is not being resolved and will most likely need to be challenged in court.

If, as expected, the new Elections Law will bring forth a strong House of Representatives, some of these issues might be resolved providing that Parliament could exercise pressure on any government wishing to gain the vote of confidence or pass any new laws.

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