Political activists in Jordan are objecting to the State Security Court’s repeated charges against them of “subverting the system of government.” Most recently, eight youth activists have been indicted under this accusation.
Nearly 70 activists suffered this charge between March and October of last year. Taqi al-Din al-Rawashda, a 15-year-old, was the youngest among them.
Jordanian lawyerYunisArrabsaid that the charge of “subverting the system of government”supposes criminal activity that is not apparent in the activists’ peaceful demonstrations. Anything that is considered a “crime” must consist of planned activity aiming to damage the economic system, influence the political system or change the governing regime, he said.
Another lawyer,Leenal-Khayat, said that the legal rule on activists uses “intent” as justification for incrimination.
Preliminary findingsbefore any action are not incriminating unless they legally demonstrate criminal intentions, al-Khayat said.
Criminalization of political activity
Activists express surprise at the oppressioninflicted upon those who express opinions on national issues. Al-Khayat asked, “Are these people emerging in marches for lowering the dinar’s value or for withdrawal of major companies from Jordan? Is this changing Jordan’s economic state? What form of society have the activists wanted to change and what basic social components have they damaged?”
Arrabsaid that accusing activists of “subverting the system of government” has led to a stage where “freedom of expression is not possible without permission.”
“Is the regime at such a point of political weakness that even demonstrations and marches fall under freedom of expression?”he asked.
Formation of the State Security Court
Many have called for a halt to the practice of choosing State Security Court members by the prime minister’s appointment, saying that this is a violation of legal article 98. The law stipulates that judges must be independent in an effort to avoid executive exploitation of special courts.
Arrab said that activists should be tried under civilian courts and only within the context of violent crime, not in the State Security Court.
Impact on public freedom
Al-Khayat said she was afraid that activists’ referral to the State Security Court wouldobstruct freedom of expression on recently circulating discussion of Jordanian reform. This discussion has included issues of legitimate popular concern such as stolen money, economic deterioration and security services’ intervention.
Arrab said that the activists have called for reform through peaceful means. Their actions do not constitute criminal behavior, he said, andshould fall under legal guarantee of free expression.
Arrab also said that the activists’ charges before the State Security Court constituted political, not illegal, behavior. Expression of opinion must be dealt with peacefully rather than stifled, he said.
Al-Khayatemphasized the Lawyers’ Association’s recommendation: that the political activists’ cases should not fall under jurisdiction of the State Security Court.
Free political dialogue and intellectual pluralism are a part of public civil life, al-Khayat said, not a matter for the courts.
Translated by Alice Su. Originally published in Arabic.