Monday, January 16, 2006

Democracy, the law and abuse

Yesterday, UPI published a report on legal charges pressed against Deputy Secretary-General of the IAF, Jamil Abu Bakr. The report is based on an IAF press release, and thus omits the position of the prosecutor of the state security court. However, the accusation highlighted, “insulting the dignity of the state”, deserves the scorn poured on it by Naseem.

More details were published today in Al Ghad. In this report, it says that the issue involves the publication of allegations against the former prime minister, Faisal Fayez by IAF deputies on the IAF website, which Abu Bakr was responsible for.

The allegations made in December 2004 concerned charges of impropriety in the appointment of senior officials, which the deputies said were made without objective standards. Since the deputies are immune from prosecution, Faisal Fayez had charges leveled against Abu Bakr. According to Al Ghad, the charges Abu Bakr faces are making false allegations and insulting the dignity of the state.

Character assassination is a barrier to many honest people who work in government. The king has repeatedly emphasized the need to protect public servants from vicious allegations. Such allegations are a significant part of Jordanian popular discourse. The fact that corrupt officials are rarely held accountable leads to a popular perception that most important officials are crooked, and thus allegations such as those of the IAF parliamentarians are very common, and can be heard at most public gatherings in Jordan. The fact that deputies in parliament say such things heightens the perception of massive corruption.

Allegations of corruption are very serious, both to the individual involved as well as to the state. If people are to make such allegations, they need to have credible evidence to back up their claims. The fact that somebody hears somebody say something (hearsay) is not enough to make such claims, especially if this charge is made by somebody with legal or moral responsibility.

Thus, Faisal Fayez felt that the charges made by the IAF impugned his dignity. If these charges are unsubstantiated, he has the right to legal recourse. Just because he was a prime minister doesn't mean that he doesn't have the right to protect his name. It is up to the court to decide if he is justified in his action or not.

Leaving the legal aspects aside, I would say that there are political aspects to this as well. The two charges (lying and insulting the state) suggest two plaintiffs, Fayez and the government. Fayez took a civil action and filed his complaint in the court of first instance. This is his right, as I have said before. The government decided to elevate it to a state security case, added charges of insulting the dignity of the state and sent it to the state security court.

The government seems to be interested in sending a message about character assassination and the truth, as these issues do in fact eat away at the dignity of the state. On the other hand, the political ramifications took a back seat. Thus, the issue has become the state suppressing the right to free expression, especially for the Islamists. If the objective of the government is to boost the credibility and the popularity of the IAF, this would be the way to do it. However, this issue hurts the dignity of the state and the perception of openness and transparency that the government is trying to convey. I would say that this was a bad mistake, and the government should have let Fayez' civil suit go through the courts. Fayez winning such a case would itself send an important message. It is too bad that our own government doesn't give the courts the respect they deserve.

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