NCHR Statement

9 July, 2016

2,15pm

Statement "The right to free expression, including seeking and circulating the different types of information is the main pillar in building any genuinely democratic society that is based on ensuring public participation in making decisions that affect the future of the country and its citizens. The importance of this right goes beyond the citizen himself and his feeling of his existence to affect the country and society alike. Guaranteeing the right to practice free expression bolsters stability and security, enhances the legitimacy of authorities and strengthens the vitality and efficiency of society. The NCHR noticed lately an increase in the numbers of detainees and people referred to the State Security Court for charges of: promoting the ideas of a terrorist group or supporting it; committing actions that are apt to disturb relationships with a foreign country or make Jordanians subject to aggressive or retaliation acts; and undermining the regime or inciting opposition of the regime. Those trials and arrests occurred within the context of citizens' expressing their positions and views to issues of public policy that touch sensitive and critical issues of interest to the whole society.
The NCHR stresses the following points that come out of its follow up of those citizens' activities and statements:

  1. International standards allow for imposing restrictions, with conditions, on the freedom of expression for the considerations of national security, personal rights of individuals and their dignity, public order and morals. However, by reviewing what some of those detainees expressed, the center sees that they are not in clear violation of the restrictions imposed on the freedom of expression by the international standards of human rights. Rather, they come substantially within the scope of the very freedom that is protected by the constitution and the international agreements to which Jordan is a party.
  2. The declarations and statements because of which citizens are referred to court are relevant to issues that are highly important to citizens as they are issues of public concern that have to do with subjects critical to Jordanian citizens, leave alone that they are linked to the citizens' right to knowledge and access to information and to circulate them.
  3. The lack of a law that clearly articulates the actions and deeds whose committing is considered a threat to national security or trespassing on the restrictions imposed on the practice of free expression, and the failure of some national legislations and their loose and unprecise legal drafting such as the Preventing Terrorism Law, the Electronic Crimes Law, the Penal Code and the State Security Court Law contributed largely to expanding the base of incriminated actions by virtue of these laws, and thus placing freedom of expression in an unjustified state of collision with the national security.
  4. The NCHR, as it underlines the importance of safeguarding national security of the state, calls upon authorities to exercise due diligence to guarantee the citizens' right to practice their right to peaceful expression of their views in any form or type, including writing, publishing, placing comments and peaceful assembly.
  5. The noticeable expansion in holding individuals' liable and accountable for the different forms of expressing their opinions and peaceful protesting has reached a level where it began to affect the citizen's right to criticize and oppose public policies.

The gray area is widening
The press statement that the National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) issued two days ago on making a balance between safeguarding the right to free expression on the one hand and trespassing on the principles claiming that right on the other is very important.

This is a difficult issue which needs good consideration and thought so that cards are not mixed and freedoms are not lost on the altar of maintaining public interests, or vice versa.

The NCHR is reminding us with the fundamentals when it stresses that the right to free expression is "the main pillar in building a genuinely democratic society that is based on ensuring public participation in making decisions that affect the future of the country and its citizens." The center does not commit any wrongdoing by going back to stress the uncontested principles, just to ensure the practice of free expression in a way that "cements stability and security, enhances the legitimacy of authorities and bolsters society's vitality and competence."

The most important position that the NCHR takes is the warning that "the noticeable expansion in holding persons liable and accountable for the different forms of expressing opinions and peaceful protest has reached a level that began to affect a citizen's right to criticize and oppose public policies."

So, here lies the problem in particular, as mixing cards in this issue has dangerous consequences on the freedom of expression internally, and on Jordan's image in the world. Hence becomes clear the national interest in ending this mixing of cards. However, initiating such an action, and finishing it with success remains a sensitive process that needs a cold mind that neutralizes the effect of preconceptions, and thus settling accounts with opponents. This process stems out of the genuine respect of the human right to free expression as a basic principle in the democratic system we aspire to, and also of a genuine assessment of the extent of harm that some ideas and attitudes might have. Herein too the NCHR highlights an important idea that a lot of people tend to overlook in their defense of freedoms, namely that freedom has limits when it has to do with protecting national security, public order and morals, as well as the personal rights and dignity of other individuals.

In this context, the key point is to answer those two questions: What is the definition of the national interest and national security? And, Where does the freedom of expression begin and where does it end? The answers are vague, foggy and can be interpreted in any way. This makes trespassing the freedom of expression open in both directions: by abusing it or by abusing the argument of safeguarding national security against it. So, misunderstanding and shuffling cards is not restricted to the official side. Rather, there is a disastrous vagueness among the public too between the freedom of expression on the one hand, and defamation and slander on the other. The worst of all is ignoring social peace, whether intentionally or unintentionally, especially when the public issues commented on are extremely sensitive, being relevant to our internal security. As regards relationships with our brothers the Arabs, I do not think that a statement here or a comment there could undermine them if they were strong and solid.

In conclusion, the legal lucidity is the only way to overcome the most dangerous practice we witnessed lately, namely, the expansion in arrests and filing charges in an unjustified way sometimes. This has led, as the NCHR rightly pointed out, to "expand the base of incriminated actions according to those laws, and has placed the freedom of expression and the national security in an unjustified state of collision."

It is never acceptable that the need to the freedom of expression and adhering to it, as it is a divine right, becomes a big gate through which the speech of hatred and racism is spread and social troubles are stirred. Abusing the others, bullying and rejecting them are not clearly a form of free expression just as the argument of security in its wide definition is not a way to assault the true freedom of expression.

Amman, Al Ghad daily
The National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) said in a statement on Sunday that "the noticeable expansion in holding persons liable and accountable for different forms of expressing opinions and peaceful protest has reached a level that began to affect a citizen's right to criticize and oppose public policies."

The statement pointed out that the NCHR noticed lately "an increase in the numbers of detainees and people referred to the State Security Court for charges of either promoting the ideas of a terrorist group or supporting it; committing actions that are apt to disturbance of relationships with a foreign country, or making Jordanians subject to aggressive or retaliation acts; and undermining the regime or inciting opposition to the regime."

The following is the full text of the statement as was received by Al Ghad:

"The right to free expression, including seeking and circulating the different types of information is the main pillar in building any genuinely democratic society that is based on ensuring public participation in making decisions that affect the future of the country and its citizens. The importance of this right goes beyond the citizen himself and his feeling of his existence to affect the country and society alike. Guaranteeing the right to practice free expression bolsters stability and security, enhances the legitimacy of authorities and strengthens the vitality and efficiency of society. The NCHR noticed lately an increase in the numbers of detainees and people referred to the State Security Court for charges of: promoting the ideas of a terrorist group or supporting it; committing actions that are apt to disturb relationships with a foreign country or make Jordanians subject to aggressive or retaliation acts; and undermining the regime or inciting opposition of the regime. Those trials and arrests occurred within the context of citizens' expressing their positions and views to issues of public policy that touch sensitive and critical issues of interest to the whole society.

The NCHR stresses the following points that come out of its follow up of those citizens' activities and statements:

  1. International standards allow for imposing restrictions, with conditions, on the freedom of expression for the considerations of national security, personal rights of individuals and their dignity, public order and morals. However, by reviewing what some of those detainees expressed, the center sees that they are not in clear violation of the restrictions imposed on the freedom of expression by the international standards of human rights. Rather, they come substantially within the scope of the very freedom that is protected by the constitution and the international agreements to which Jordan is a party.
  2. The declarations and statements because of which citizens are referred to court are relevant to issues that are highly important to citizens as they are issues of public concern that have to do with subjects critical to Jordanian citizens, leave alone that they are linked to the citizens' right to knowledge and access to information and to circulate them.
  3. The lack of a law that clearly articulates the actions and deeds whose committing is considered a threat to national security or trespassing on the restrictions imposed on the practice of free expression, and the failure of some national legislations and their loose and unprecise legal drafting such as the Preventing Terrorism Law, the Electronic Crimes Law, the Penal Code and the State Security Court Law contributed largely to expanding the base of incriminated actions by virtue of these laws, and thus placing freedom of expression in an unjustified state of collision with the national security.
  4. The NCHR, as it underlines the importance of safeguarding national security of the state, calls upon authorities to exercise due diligence to guarantee the citizens' right to practice their right to peaceful expression of their views in any form or type, including writing, publishing, placing comments and peaceful assembly.
  5. The noticeable expansion in holding individuals' liable and accountable for the different forms of expressing their opinions and peaceful protesting has reached a level where it began to affect the citizen's right to criticize and oppose public policies.