Jordan military arrests TV executives for airing virus complaints

Roya TV officials arrested for reporting on lack of jobs and money needed by labourers to feed families under curfew.

Roya TV news director Mohamad al-khaldi, left and General Manager and owner Fares Sayegh
Roya TV news director Mohamad al-khaldi, left, and owner Fares Sayegh, right, were arrested by Jordan's military on Thursday [Courtesy: Roya TV]

The Jordanian military has arrested the owner of Roya TV and its news director after it aired a news segment showing a crowd of labourers complaining about their inability to work because of the government-imposed coronavirus lockdown.

Roya TV issued a statement on Friday confirming the arrests of its news director, Mohamad al-Khalidi, and Fares Sayegh, the general manager and owner of the television station.

Al-Khalidi is also the host of the popular political talk show Nabd al-Balad, or “pulse of the town”.

“The public prosecution at the state security court has ordered the detention of Sayegh and al-Khalidi for 14 days over the airing of a news segment,” the statement said.

“Roya Channel supports the Jordanian government efforts throughout all the crises as part of the Jordanian media that works professionally and patriotically and respecting the rule of law,” it added.

The segment in question, which aired on Wednesday, showed a crowd of people in a poor area of the capital, Amman. One man speaking on camera said he and others were no longer able to work and feed their families because of the government-imposed lockdown.

“I need to feed my family, what should I do now? Should I resort to stealing or selling drugs? Should we start begging on the streets?” he asked.

A woman in the report said her family’s situation was desperate as her son, who works in a sweets store, was forced to stay home because of the lockdown. They have no bread, rice, or sugar, she said.

Jordan security forces [Ali Younes/Al Jazeera]
Jordanian troops have been posted in Amman to enforce the government-imposed curfew [Ali Younes/Al Jazeera]

Industrialist Michel Sayegh, chairman of the board at the channel and father of Fares Sayegh, said in the statement he “trusts the government’s efforts to fight the coronavirus under the leadership of King Abdullah II”.

Michel gave 900,000 Jordanian dinar ($1.3m) to Jordan’s government to help with efforts to fight the pandemic and offset its economic effect, after asking for donations from wealthy Jordanians and companies.

The fund has collected around $100m so far mainly from the banking and industrial sectors.

Al Jazeera contacted government spokesman Amjad Adaileh for comment on the arrest of the two television executives but he did not respond.

Jordan imposed a state of emergency in March as the country doubled down on efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the government announced a round-the-clock, 48-hour lockdown barring people from moving, except for emergency and medical workers. Anyone found outside of their home – except in the case of an emergency – can be arrested and face a one-year prison sentence.

About 85 percent of Jordan’s economy is driven by small and medium-sized businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of workers. Those have now all shut down.

The private sector in Jordan employs about 1.2 million people who produce half of the country’s gross domestic profit (GDP) of about $42bn, according to Salameh Derrawi, an economics columnist based in Amman.

Government data shows the average per capita income for a Jordanian citizen was 4,200 dinar a year ($6,000) in 2019.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II approved a national defence law on March 17 that gives the government sweeping powers to enforce the state of emergency to combat the pandemic.

The royal decree allows Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz to impose curfews, close businesses, and place restrictions on freedom of movement.

It will be implemented “in a way that it will not impede the civil and political freedoms of Jordanians, and to protect public freedoms and freedom of speech,” the decree stated.

Jordan has so far recorded 372 coronavirus cases, seven deaths, and 161 people have recovered.

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

Source: Al Jazeera