Reporters Without Borders calls on the Jordanian authorities to free journalist Jamal Al-Muhtaseb at once and to plans to try him before a military-run state security court in connection with his coverage of a corruption investigation. The editor of the Gerasa News website and the Al-Mir’aa weekly newspaper, Muhtaseb has been held since 23 April.
“Muhtaseb’s detention is a serious violation of Jordanian law and freedom of information.” Reporters Without Borders said. “His reporting of this corruption case has been in the public interest. The illegal and arbitrary proceedings brought against him are indicative of the royal family’s inability to accept being criticized or challenged. We call for his immediate release and the withdrawal of all the charges.”
Muhtaseb has been put in pre-trial detention in Amman’s Juweida prison for an initial period of 14 days on a charge of “inciting anti-government sentiment,” which carries a possible 15-year jail sentence.
His arrest was prompted by an article quoting an unnamed parliamentarian as saying parliament had received royal directives not to indict former government minister Sahil Majali for alleged corruption in connection with the “Sakan Karim” low-income housing project.
According to Agence France-Presse, this gigantic project was launched in 2008 with an initial budget of 7 billion dollars with the aim of building 100,000 homes for low-income Jordanians. Muhtaseb has been alleging high-level government corruption involving Majali.
Using a state security court to try a journalist is completely illegal under Jordanian law and is indicative of the government’s nervousness and determination to suppress freedom of information in this affair. Article 101, paragraph 2 of the Hashemite kingdom’s constitution specifically bans trying a civilian before a military court on any charge other than high treason, spying or drug trafficking. But challenging the monarchy is clearly a red line that Jordan’s press cannot cross.
Gerasa News reported yesterday that the state security court had deferred until today any decision on Muhtaseb’s possible release on bail. The court gave no explanation for the postponement. Gerasa News reporter Sahar Al-Muhtaseb, who has also been charged in the same case, was released after she paid 5,000 dinars (5,300 euros) in bail.
Gerasa News was the victim of a cyber-attack on the night of 23 April, when users hacked into the website and deleted articles about Muhtaseb’s arrest and the charges brought against him.
Around 50 journalists staged a sit-in outside the Jordan Press Association building on 23 April to protest against the use of a state security court to try Muhtaseb and to demand his immediate release. They repeated the sit-in yesterday morning and then demonstrated outside parliament in the afternoon