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Women hold up their phones showing Palestinian flags at a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy on Saturday April 6, Jordanian flags wave in the background (Hanna Davis)

As Jordan Cracks Down on Palestine Protests, Arrests Soar

… demonstrations have swelled throughout six months of Israel's war on Gaza.

Words: Hanna Davis
Pictures: Hanna Davis
Date:

On the night of April 6, a cold wind ripped through the Jordanian capital. Despite the chill, hundreds still gathered for some two hours near the Israeli embassy to stand in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 

Demonstrations in Jordan have continued throughout six months of Israel’s war on Gaza. But unlike previous protests, this rally had fewer Palestinian flags floating above the crowd, and police checked IDs and paraphernalia at a gate leading to the protest area. 

Dozens of demonstrators held up smartphones with the Palestinian flag on the screens. They waved their phones as they chanted for an end to the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty and took aim at Jordanian security authorities. “No to security grips,” they chanted. 

For half a year, pro-Palestine demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy have rocked the Jordanian capital, Amman. But amid rising anger and growing protests, Jordanian security forces launched a crackdown on demonstrators and political activists.

The crowds began to swell outside the embassy around Friday, March 22, as anger brewed during Israel’s siege of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. On Sunday, March 24, allegations that Israeli forces raped and killed women in the hospital further fueled the anger among demonstrators. An estimated 60% of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin. Many have friends or relatives in Gaza. 

“Repression”

On Tuesday, March 26, an invitation was spread widely for Jordanians to “besiege the Zionist embassy.”  That night, more than 2,000 protestors marched towards the heavily guarded embassy compound. But baton wielding police pushed back the angry crowd, causing clashes to erupt. Wednesday, March  27 witnessed a similar scenario: the fourth consecutive day the protests were marred with violence and hundreds of arrests.  

Since Oct. 7, Jordanian authorities have arrested over 1,500 individuals for their protest activities, according to Louay Obeidat, a lawyer with the National Freedom Forum, who has been tracking the arrests. 

At the end of the demonstration outside the Israeli embassy on Saturday April 6 a prayer is held for those in Gaza, police line up in background waiting to disperse crowds (Hanna Davis)
At the end of the demonstration outside the Israeli embassy on Saturday April 6 a prayer is held for those in Gaza, police line up in background waiting to disperse crowds (Hanna Davis)

Adam Coogle, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director, said the recent wave of arrests “show the extent to which Jordan is intolerant of spontaneous, massive protests and is not guaranteeing Jordanians’ rights to peaceful assembly.”

Coogle added, “Authorities will tolerate protests to a certain extent, but at the end of the day, they return to repression and to keeping tight control over the public square.”

“Locked Up Without Reason”

Hussein*, 34, was one of those arrested over the past two weeks. From the safe enclosure of his car — Amman’s busy cafes too risky for Hussein to share his story — he recounted to Inkstick Media that he was detained for four nights without access to a lawyer and was aggressively strip searched. His phone was also confiscated during the duration of his imprisonment and he was unable to contact his wife or family members, who didn’t know where he was. 

“It’s not fair at all,” he said. “They locked me up without a reason. How can they do something to you like this when you didn’t do anything?”

It’s not fair at all.

– Hussein

Hussein said his family fled Jerusalem under assault during the 1948 war that led to Israel’s establishment, known to Palestinians as the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”). Although he, like many Jordanians, supports Hamas’s armed resistance, he said he has never participated in violence. 

On Sunday evening, March 24, Hussein arrived at the protest around 10:30, where he joined the front rows of demonstrators. He said he was facing the crowds, his back to the police. After only about 25 minutes, a police officer approached him from behind and grabbed his shoulder, accusing Hussein of hitting him. 

Blaming Hamas

They then arrested him and threw him into the back of a police van without about 20 other young men from the protest. Hussein estimated that security forces arrested around 100 protestors that night. He added that most were affiliated with the Islamic Action Front (IAF) party, the political wing of the Hamas-allied Muslim Brotherhood and Jordan’s largest opposition party.

The IAF has gained popularity in Jordan since Oct. 7, presenting a worrisome scenario for Jordan with parliamentary elections suspected to be held between July and November. 

On March 31, former Jordanian Information Minister Samih al-Maaytah accused the Hamas movement of trying to stir unrest in Jordan in cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood. He cited a March 26 speech by Hamas political leader abroad, Khaled Meshaal, which called for people, “especially in Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco” to take to the streets. 

In recent statements, a public security spokesperson denied allegations of a heavy-handed crackdown on protesters, saying arrests were made in response to “rioting.” The statement said authorities have allowed “citizens to express their opinions in accordance with the laws,” adding: “The Public Security Directorate will continue its professional work in maintaining security and community peace.”

Held Without Trial

Hussein said security forces first took him to a judge in Amman, who said he was not guilty. But he nonetheless landed in administrative detention — when a person is held without a trial or having committed an offense — upon an order from the Amman governor.

Jordan’s Crime Prevention Law of 1954 includes expansive powers to use administrative detention “in violation of the country’s rights obligations,” according to HRW. Article 3 allows local governors to take action against anyone “under their jurisdiction.” In practice, HRW notes, this enables officials to “routinely circumvent the criminal justice system to detain people by administrative order with limited judicial review.”

After nights spent crammed in a prison cell, holding around 50 people but only meant for 20, Hussein was released on the condition that he sign a pledge to no longer take part in the pro-Palestine protests. He said if he is caught at a protest, he would be subject to a fine of 50,000 JOD ($70,543), according to the terms of the agreement. 

“Thinking of Leaving”

As of April 7, more than 48 people remained in administrative detention, judicial custody, or in the intelligence department’s detention as a result of their protest activities. Most of those still detained were arrested during the previous two weeks. Seven cannot be accounted for and are missing, according to Obeidat, from the National Freedom Forum.  

After about an hour of driving in circles around Amman, Hussein finally reached his home, where his wife and two young children were waiting for him. “I’m scared for my family,” he said. “They could come and arrest me and take me to prison at any time, for a one week, or one year, or 10 years, and no one would ask or do anything. If I’m gone, no one could support them.” 

He is even thinking of leaving the country: “I started to think negatively about my country. I’m thinking of leaving … for the safety of my children.” 

Social Media Clampdown

Human rights lawyer Hala Ahed rushed into her office in Amman, running late to the meeting with Inkstick Media. She had been caught up in a situation involving one of her clients: a 24-year-old girl, Nour*, who was arrested at the entrance of a pro-Palestine protest on Tuesday, April 2. There are currently two women, including Nour, still detained as a result of their activism.

Ahed said Nour had already spent more than a week in jail, after receiving a court order that said her social media posts violated Jordan’s stringent Cybercrime Law, enacted in 2023.

Human rights lawyer Hala Ahed in her office in Amman, the files of her detained clients are stacked beside her (Hanna Davis)
Human rights lawyer Hala Ahed in her office in Amman, the files of her detained clients are stacked beside her (Hanna Davis)

Since November, Jordanian security forces have arrested dozens of people for social media posts expressing pro-Palestinian sentiments, criticizing the country’s policies towards Israel, or advocating for public strikes and protests, according to Ahed and a report by Amnesty International.

On Sunday April 7 — hours before Inkstick Media met with Ahed — one of Nour’s friends was arrested while visiting Nour at the jail, Ahed explained. Police officers followed her and another friend outside to their car after the visit and proceeded to check the vehicle and the two women’s phones. Ahed said they then arrested one of the women likely for violations of the Cybercrime law: “We don’t know where she is now.”

“People Aren’t Afraid Anymore”

Ahed pulled out a stack of legal files from under her desk, all from her clients detained in recent weeks due to their pro-Palestine activism. She noted that several appeared before the court prosecutor showing signs of being beaten by police authorities, including bruises and a dislocated shoulder. A video widely circulated on social media shows police dragging away a woman from a demonstration on March 31.

“Over the past five years, we’ve felt the space for civil society shrinking more and more,” Ahed stated. She was one of more than 35 people who had their phones hacked by the Israel-made Pegasus spyware between 2019 and September 2023, she said, referencing an Access Now investigation published this year. 

For a time, Ahed said, the government’s intensifying crackdown on civic space made people “afraid to take to the streets and demonstrate for their rights.” And although it has elicited an aggressive response from the state, she insisted, “People aren’t afraid anymore.”

Hanna Davis

Hanna Davis is a freelance journalist reporting on politics, foreign policy, and humanitarian affairs.

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