Public restive as opposition to the Defense Law and its economic implications grows

1. Defense Law new
Police forces deployed to disperse a demonstration protesting the Defense Law in downtown Amman, on November 12, 2021. (Photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Public opposition to Defense Law No. 13 of 1992 has become more pronounced recently, as hard economic times bite, shops close, workers laid off, and prices of basic good rise, coupled with accusations of an uneven application of defense orders, which many argue infringes on human rights and basic freedoms.اضافة اعلان

The Defense Law was enacted to face the COVID-19 pandemic and gave the prime minister wide powers to deal with its direct threat to public health.

When the Defense Law was put in force in March 2020, His Majesty King Abdullah instructed the government to implement the law without infringing on Jordanians’ political and civil rights, “but, rather, safeguarding them and protecting public liberties and the right to self-expression enshrined in the Constitution and in accordance with regular laws currently in effect, and guaranteeing the respect of private property, be it real estate, or movable and immovable funds.”

But now critics say the government has broadened the use of the law in ways that have affected freedom of speech and peoples’ right to assembly while having a negative effect on economic sectors and business activities. They say that the time has come to suspend the law and to enforce provisions under the Public Health Law.

The Defense Law contravenes the Constitution, said MP Saleh Al-Armouti, who opposes the continued application of the law one year and seven months since it was first put in force in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said by placing decision making in the hands of just one person, the law violates the principle of the separation of powers, which Armouti said does not happen “except in totalitarian states”, adding that the Defense Law should only be applied in exceptional cases.

Armouti said that the government’s defense orders are not being implemented and are being violated by the government itself. He attributed this to the double standards in enforcing precautionary measures — the lack of enforcement at some venues like concerts, while applying tightened measures at others, like at mosques.

The Defense Law was used to ban an anti-Defense Law protest Friday, which was held nonetheless amid a heavy security presence in front of Al-Husseini Mosque in downtown Amman after the conclusion of Friday prayers. 
Amman’s governor, Yasser Adwan, prohibited the protest on November 10 under the provisions of the Defense Law, citing the epidemiological situation in the Kingdom, according to Roya News.

Adwan said that any rallies or measures that violate the law will be dealt with firmly and sternly. He added that peaceful protests that fulfill the required conditions and do not violate the laws are not prohibited.

Loai Obeidat, spokesman for the People’s Movement for Change, a coalition of political parties in Jordan, said the goal from the protest was twofold; to break the stalemate people have experienced as a result of tightened security measures in recent years, and to demand the abolition of the Defense Law, which undermines freedoms. 

“The authorities took what they wanted from this law to paralyze this kind of (political) work, so it was necessary to protest to remove this obstacle and to continue the struggle to press forward towards fundamental change,” Obeidat said.

Aya Latouf, an advocate trainee, said the executive branch is still issuing defense orders that contravene the provisions of the Constitution. She said the prime minister was allowed to arbitrarily use these powers without any kind of monitoring.

“Decisions are in his hands, which is dangerous. But an infringement of the Constitution without any oversight, results in an outrageous imbalance in the separation of powers under the Jordanian Constitution, all under the pretext of a ‘state of emergency’ that has become a part of everyday human life,” Latouf said, adding that this infringes on the rights of Jordanian citizens.

“The executive branch, as represented by the prime minister has exploited the state of emergency to place restrictions on basic human rights by making completely ill-considered decisions,” Latouf added.

The commissioner-general of the National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), Alaa Al-Armouti, said the Defense Law must be constitutionally regulated, to know when its powers begin and when they end.

“We have affirmed our commitment to the basic orientation of the law to be within its narrowest limits and not to be applied to everything,” he said.
Armouti explained that the Defense Law restricts citizens in an unjustified manner and is not in line with the directives for which it came into existence, leading to negative impacts.

“The restrictions on protesters because of defense orders were unjustified, as gatherings and celebrations were being held,” Armouti said, commenting on Friday’s protests, adding that the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the right to protest.

“The number of protestors Friday was limited, it was a peaceful protest, and there were no clashes between the security forces and the protestors,” he added.

Read more National news