Critic of Jordan's king faces possible prosecution

Prominent Jordanian political analyst and government critic Labib Kamhawi said Wednesday that he may face prosecution and even jail for inciting revolt and defaming Jordan's King Abdullah II, but he denied any wrongdoing and vowed he will fight back.

The Amman general prosecutor said earlier that Kamhawi is being questioned on suspicion of publically harming the king's dignity and inciting people against the government.

"Of course, I'm planning to fight back," Kamhawi told The Associated Press of the prosecutor's actions. "If we accept this, it will be the end of freedom of speech in Jordan."

The affair started when Kamhawi made comments on a TV talk show a few weeks ago that allegedly questioned the king's reform ambitions.

Kamhawi said his statements were not an affront to the king's person. "We're fighting back on behalf of the people of Jordan," he said, adding that he considered the case a step backward from improvements in freedom of expression in Jordan since last year's uprisings in the region.

The prosecutor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said Kamhawi allegedly accused the king of paying mere lip service to reform plans.

Kamhawi's run-in with authorities is the latest in a string of similar incidents this year in which activists were arrested, charged with harming the king's dignity and most often convicted. King Abdullah later pardoned those involved.

A Jordanian youth was charged in January with "undermining his majesty's dignity" for burning a poster of the king.

In April, a military tribunal charged 12 activists with defaming the monarch during a protest in which they also called for his ouster.

That same month, Jamal Muhtaseb, the publisher of online newspaper, was arrested after his website posted an article alleging misconduct by royal officials. He was charged with propagating "anti-regime sentiment."

The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged Jordan to abolish laws criminalizing peaceful free speech and assembly.

"Jordan's talk of reform is meaningless as long as the law deprives citizens of meeting and speaking freely," the group's researcher Christophe Wilke said.

Under current law, the state security court has jurisdiction over speech-related crimes, including insulting the king — a taboo punishable by up to three years in jail.