Geneva - The one-year prison sentence against Jordanian journalist Ahmad Hasan Al Zoubi for a Facebook post is arbitrary and unjust, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement, stressing Jordanian authorities’ systematic policy of silencing critics and dissidents.

Euro-Med Monitor strongly condemns Jordanian authorities’ continued abuse of the law and judiciary to persecute dissidents and opinion holders. The judiciary’s independence and impartiality must be preserved, rather than used to serve authorities’ illegitimate goals of restricting Jordanians’ fundamental rights.

Following Al Zoubi’s conviction for “inciting sectarian and racial strife, as well as conflict between the components of the nation” and initial sentence of two months’ imprisonment, the Amman Court of First Instance on Wednesday 9 August changed his sentence to imprisonment for one year, in addition to a fine. The decision comes after the journalist published a Facebook post during a truck drivers’ strike in Ma’an Governorate last December in which he criticised authorities’ handling of the situation. Euro-Med Monitor examined Al Zoubi’s post and determined that nothing in it justified the violation of his right to free expression, nor his imprisonment, trial, or even investigation.

   Decisions to imprison journalists and dissidents clearly violate Article 15 of the Jordanian Constitution, which prohibits the infringement of individuals’ fundamental rights   

Freedom of expression and publication must be fully guaranteed in all circumstances and not be limited by vague and broadly worded provisions, which authorities frequently use to limit freedoms. Al Zoubi’s imprisonment is further evidence of authorities’ unlawful campaign against dissidents and opinion holders; Jordanian courts recently sentenced journalists Khaled al-Majali and Hiba Abu Taha to three months in prison and fined them for “defamation against a state institution”.

These decisions to imprison journalists and dissidents clearly violate Article 15 of the Jordanian Constitution, which prohibits the infringement of individuals’ fundamental rights, including freedom of opinion, expression, and publication, plus a wide range of additional freedom-related rights. Authorities rely heavily on broadly worded regulations and laws to limit freedom of expression, purposefully abusing the Crime Prevention Law to implement administrative detention and exploiting the vague provisions of the Cybercrime Law, the Penal Code, the Anti-Terrorism Law, and the Association Law, all to prohibit and criminalise peaceful activity.

Authorities’ prosecution of opinion holders also raises serious concerns about proposed amendments to Jordan’s controversial Cybercrime Law, which would incorporate further ambiguous phrasing in an effort to aid in the criminalisation of dissidents and opinion holders and arbitrarily and disproportionately increase their penalties. Notably, due to the escalating government violations against journalists and other members of the media, Jordan’s ranking in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has fallen from 120th in 2022 to 146th in 2023, out of 180 countries.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor calls on the Jordanian authorities to immediately and unconditionally overturn the sentences imposed on journalist Ahmad Hasan Al Zoubi and all other individuals who have been targeted for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, as well as release all those who have been detained for exercising their legitimate rights.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, must monitor and document Jordanian authorities’ violations of the right to free expression and peaceful assembly; work with the Human Rights Council to pressure the authorities to end these violations; and ensure the protection of civil society and individuals’ right to free expression and publication without fear of prosecution or harassment.