Amid economic decline and high unemployment, resentment is building among the country’s youth.
The lawyer for one of several anti-corruption activists detained recently by Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID) has demanded the immediate release of his client, saying that he is “innocent” and has “committed no crime that warrants his detention”.
Husam al-Abdallat, a former high-ranking Jordan government official, was among the activists arrested in Amman, Jordan’s capital, by the GID, on the night of January 12.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Amman, Musa al-Abdallat, the lawyer, described Husam al-Abdallat’s detention as a “political witch-hunt by the intelligence department, which is trying to silence Jordanian patriots who speak out against political and economic corruption”.
Abdallat said he tried to contact Fawaz al-Otoom, the State Security Court prosecutor, but was turned back by the guards at the gate and no one answered the phone at the prosecutor’s office.
The State Security Court prosecutor is legally responsible for issuing the arrest warrants used to hold the detainees, with his office is located at the GID headquarters.
‘Too busy to meet’
The State Security Court deals with serious crimes, such as “terrorism” and drug cases and cases deemed against the government.
Mohamed al-Shamout, lawyer for another detained pro-reform activist, Mohamad al-Otoom, a retired GID general, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that he was able to talk to the prosecutor, who said he was “too busy to meet [the lawyer] today”, but asked the lawyer to come back at 10:30am [local time] on Tuesday in order to meet his client and find out if any criminal charges would be filed against him.
Besides Otoom and Abdallat, the GID arrested retired Lieutenant-Colonel Wasfi Rawashdeh, a former member of parliament; retired Brigadier-General Omar Osoofi; and a member of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.
It is unclear how many activists have been arrested so far, but the number, according to local news reports, ranges between 16 and 19 people.
Al Jazeera has learned that the arrests were made after a meeting at Husam al-Abdallat’s home on Thursday afternoon, convened to discuss – according to the organisers – ways to facilitate reform and combat corruption in the public arena.
Local news media said Otoom was present at the meeting, but Otoom’s wife, Um Moath, speaking to Al Jazeera by phone from Amman, rejected the reports.
She said her husband had received a phone call at home from the GID on Thursday at 4:30pm local time telling him to come for a meeting with General Faisal al-Shoubaki, head of the GID, at 6:00pm for a discussion on public issues in Jordan.
She also denied insinuations by the local news media that Otoom harboured anti-government and anti-king leanings.
“My husband served this country and the king for 30 years and was always a loyal soldier,” she said.
Before his retirement in 2006, Otoom served as head of training at the GID, then as director of Officers Staff Affairs and finally, as the GID’s chief of station in Sudan.
It is not clear if Otoom ended up meeting Shobaki or not. His lawyer said he would have to wait until Tuesday to meet his client to find out what happened.
Otoom is a pro-reform activist within a politically active wing of Jordan’s Military Veterans’ Association informally called Tayyar, or Current.
The Military Veterans’ Association is a civil organisation that caters for the economic and social needs of retired soldiers.
In his first public statement since the arrests, Hani Mulqi, Jordan’s prime minister, was quoted by the state news agency, Petra, on Sunday as saying: “The security agencies detained individuals based on arrest warrants issued by the prosecutor of the State Security Court for committing incitement that would arouse the public opinion.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Khaled al-Majali, a retired GID officer and an active member of Tayyar, said the group wants more accountability and transparency in response to allegations of corruption in government institutions.
“The security-intelligence establishment in the country is trying to undermine the credibility and the character of the pro-reform activists by spreading false allegations against them to mislead the public,” he said.
Wesam al-Abdallat, brother of Husam al-Abdallat, told Al Jazeera his brother was asked by the GID to attend a meeting with high-ranking officers at the intelligence department to discuss “public issues”.
“My brother was never against the regime or the king. My family had served in the military for over 50 years,” Wesam al-Abdallat to Al Jazeera.
When Al Jazeera contacted the GID headquarters in Amman for its comment on the detention of the activists, a spokesperson who declined to identify himself said that “the GID did not arrest any of the individuals in question”.
He referred Al Jazeera to the State Security Court for additional information on the subject.
Al Jazeera called the State Security Court’s office at the GID headquarters, but no one answered the phone.
Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that the detainees could either be released after possibly signing a pledge to stop their public activism or face prosecution.
Since 2011, Jordanian authorities have prosecuted many political activists in the State Security Court under the vague charge of “undermining the political regime” – a “terrorism” provision.
If authorities prosecute them for online activities, they could also be charged with violating provisions of the Electronic Crimes Law.
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