Amendment to Penal Code violates free speech — journalists

2. Lower House
(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — The House of Representatives approved Tuesday a government amendment to Article 225, related to publishing prohibited court material, which replaces a fine of between JD5 and JD25 with up to three months’ imprisonment for anyone who violates this article of the Penal Code.اضافة اعلان

Article 225 prohibits citizens, in general, and the media, in particular, from publishing documents about criminal or misdemeanor investigations before they are read out in a public session or during secret court sessions, documents concerning custody trials, or any other trials that courts do not wish to make public.

Those in favor of censorship consider it necessary to preserve the confidentiality and conduct of an investigation, while others believe that it restricts freedom of expression and withholds information from the public.

Journalist and publisher Basil Okoor told Jordan News that the amendments clearly aim at imposing more restrictions on the press and public freedoms.

This, he said, is dangerous, and replacing the monetary penalty with three months’ imprisonment “shows the true nature of the mentality that controls public speech and everything related to criticism of government performance”.

Okoor said that this “attempt at boosting official procedures through legal means is now one of the government’s tools aimed at intimidating people and, consequently, restricting their freedoms”.

It is also a “message heralding further restrictions on journalistic freedoms”.

Senator and columnist Jamil Al-Nimri told Jordan News that the existing sanctions in the Penal Code were sufficient to act as a deterrent, and that “the new penalties are unjustified” and limit freedom of expression.

According to Nimri, when the government finds itself under pressure from forces and activists in society, it “decides to impose more restrictions by forcing lawmakers to toughen the laws”.

Nidal Mansour, CEO of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, told Jordan News that there should be no restrictions on the freedom of expression, and “this so-called publishing crime, falls under free speech and expression”.

Mansour said that amending the article by imposing a prison sentence instead of a fine “is a strict measure in violation of international codes”. He added that “the amendment contradicts Constitutional principles and is a violation of articles contained in international treaties and agreements ratified by Jordan”.

According to columnist Daoud Kuttab, “the Jordanian Parliament today is committing a legislative bloodbath. The world is moving to decriminalize media-related issues and Jordan has just slapped three months of imprisonment for violating gag orders”, he said.

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