Amman – Critics are warning that changes to Jordan’s anti-terrorism law, including a broadened definition of terrorism and strengthened punishments, could be used by authorities to silence opposition.
The Jordanian government says the amendments, approved in the Senate this week, are necessary to protect the country amid increasing extremism in neighbouring Syria.
Under the new law, penalties for terrorist acts range from 10 years in prison to the death penalty, and the definition of terrorism has been expanded to include any act meant to create sedition, harm property or jeopardise international relations, or to use the Internet or media outlets to promote “terrorist” thinking.
If the law is implemented in this proposed format, it will give Jordanian authorities a new card to punish and scrutinise opposition groups.
Opponents warn this could lay the groundwork for a widened crackdown on opposition groups and restrictions on media freedom.
“These amendments are not justified and [are] unnecessary,” Zaki Bani Rashid, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, told Al Jazeera. “If the law is implemented in this proposed format, it will give Jordanian authorities a new card to punish and scrutinise opposition groups.”
Jameel Nemri, a member of the Jordanian Parliament and a strong opponent of the amended law, said it would improperly expand the role of Jordan’s State Security Court: “Hacking websites and looting are already addressed in Jordan’s penal code. [Such] civil crimes are not acts of terrorism and those allegedly accused of any should be tried in civil court,” Nemri told Al Jazeera.
Jordanian officials, meanwhile, say the law will help to protect the country’s stability and prevent young people from falling victim to extremism. Government spokesman Mohamad al-Momani previously cited concerns about extremist groups in Syria taking their fight to Jordanian territory, and in an interview with Al Jazeera, he said that protecting Jordan’s borders amid a massive Syrian refugee influx is among the country’s biggest current challenges.
“Every day we read in the news reports about young Jordanians dying inside Syria after being brainwashed by extremists,” added parliamentarian Saad Zawaideh. “Jordan has been an attraction to refugees from neighbouring countries, as it is safe and stable. We need this law to protect the blessing of peace we have had.”
The Jordanian air force recently destroyed a number of combat vehicles trying to cross into the kingdom from neighbouring Syria. A video recently posted to YouTube, meanwhile, shows an alleged Jordanian fighter in Syria calling on his relatives to join the jihad, before burning his Jordanian passport.
Jordan passed its anti-terrorism law in 2006, a year after a trio of hotel bombings in the capital killed 60 people.