AMMAN, Jordan – Jordan should stop stifling dissent and allow citizens to voice their grievances freely, an international human rights group said Thursday.
The New York-based group said that, despite permitting recent protests against inflation and unemployment, authorities in 2010 prosecuted dissidents and prohibited peaceful gatherings to protest government policies.
In recent weeks, thousands of Jordanians have staged a series of peaceful street protests calling for their government to step down in an outpouring of anger over economic hardship and a lack of democratic reforms in the absolute monarchy.
Spurred on by the example of the popular uprising in Tunisia, opposition movements have vowed to keep up the pressure until Prime Minister Samir Rifai and his government resign.
Jordan's government has taken some steps to try to defuse the situation, including announcing $125 million package in subsidies on basic goods and fuel and job creation. A pay increase for civil servants and members of the security forces was also announced.
But the opposition has said the moves still do not go far enough.
Human Rights Watch's World Report 2011 said people were detained for insulting King Abdullah II and the security forces and conducting opposition political gatherings.
It cited the case of 24-year-old computer student Imad al-Din al-Ash, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment for defaming the king and calling soldiers 'cowards.'
Jordan then passed an August law putting all online expression under its penal code.
The Human Rights Watch report also described restrictions on expression and assembly in the run-up to the November 2010 parliamentary elections.
It said a local radio station was denied permission to air a candidate debate while 35 students from the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition, were arrested on charges of campaigning to support an election boycott.
Jordan researcher Christoph Wilcke cited remarks by Abdullah on Wednesday saying that all parts of society must be heard.
"I don't think jailing peaceful critics is a good way to listen to them," Wilcke said.
Wilcke lauded the government's recent announcement that it was consulting civil society groups to formulate a new elections law.
A controversial election law drawn up last May led to the boycott of the parliamentary polls by the Islamic Action Front and other opposition groups.
"This is a good initiative," Wilcke said, expressing hope that in the end "something based on human rights, free and fair elections and can be enacted into law."