Jordanian Supreme Court imprisons journalist for criticizing corruption
By Ali Younes
The Jordanian Court of Cassation made legal history yesterday when it reversed itself and convicted Jordanian journalist Husam Abdallat of trying to “ undermine the Jordanian regime” for his criticism of powerful government officials and close friends of King Abdallah II.
The court which is the highest court in the land and function as a “Supreme Court” had previously overturned a lower court ruling last April stating that Abdallat “was not guilty” of the same charge that was lodged against him by the “State Security Court”. But it went back and contradicted its original ruling and upheld a conviction against Abdallat. Abdallat has been sentenced to one year in jail which is he is currently serving. He is expected to finish his sentence in two months.
Several Jordanian legal scholars told the Arab Daily News that the Court’s sudden U-Turn is unprecedented and represents a collapse of the Jordanian justice system.
Abdallat a journalist who ran “Jordan’s future TV” through which he criticized alleged corruption produced documents on TV that allegedly showed massive money embezzlement and political corruption by two of the most powerful government officials in Jordan, Abdel Rauf Rawabdeh and Imad Najib Fakhoury. Implicated also in Abdallat’s criticism of alleged corruption was the chief of the Jordanian armed forces, General Mohamad Meshal al Zaben.
Rawabdeh is the current head of the Jordanian Senate and former Prime Minister, while Fakhoury is the Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and former chief of staff of the King and Director of his office; both men are also close friends of the King.
Rawabdeh is one of the most powerful men in Jordan had also served as a mayor of Amman, and member of Parliament had always been accused by the general public and the press in Jordan of corruption for the wealth he amassed while serving in the government.
According to Jordanian press coverage of this case, Abdallat’s accusations and criticism irked Rawabdeh who in turn assembled his own private militia and street thugs to attack Abadallat with knives and batons on camera and in the street. Abdallat was hospitalized and sued Rawabdeh for assault and battery and attempted murder. For three years the case against Rawabdeh is still pending and going nowhere.
Commenting on the latest court ruling, Abdallat’s attorney, Mousa Al Abdallat said that “the latest decision is unheard of in Jordan, where the highest court contradicted itself and reversed itself in a span of few weeks.”
The State Security Court which convicted Abdallat in the first place is court established by a decree and according to opinion by Jordanian scholars is “unconstitutional.” In reality the court is the Jordanian government main legal tool to battle pro democracy and pro reform activists.
Several Jordanian observers and activists told the Arab Daily News on the phone from Amman that “the ruling was not unexpected given that Abdallat had ruffled the feathers of very powerful individuals who in addition to their official positions operate as “Mafia Godfathers” in terms of their political influence and illegal financial and economic dealings”
Meanwhile, in a strong worded statement issued by Abdallat’s clan reacting to the court’s ruling, the council of the 20,000 -strong clan decried the court’s decision stating that “the decision of the highest court showed how impotent, penetrated and corrupt the Jordanian justice system is.”
The statement also said that “the ruling was a result of the court succumbing to strong pressure and interventions by very powerful figures within the Jordanian government to reverse itself and produce a conviction.”
“We will do everything we can to defend our son” the statement concluded.
The Arab Daily News had tried to reach officials at the Court of Cassation to comment on the controversial ruling but they refused to meet with our reporters in Amman or speak to the media.
The Arab Daily News had learned that several Jordanian lawyers and legal scholars have convened to look into legal ways to deal with the legal consequences of the Court’s decision.
It’s worth noting, however, that while Jordan is a liberal constitutional monarchy and that it has a very thin veneer of freedom of press and speech; it remains very dangerous and possibly deadly to criticize the very powerful in the country. Adam Coogle a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch in Amman told the Arab Daily News that the charges of “Undermining the Jordanian regime” are vague and could mean anything depending on the government’s intentions. He also added that this charge is in essence a “terrorism charge” that was used against protestors who demand freedom of speech and political reform.
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