Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On the road to freedom square

A funny thing has happened on the way to freedom square. The prime minister, Marouf Bakhit recently sent a revised press and publication law to parliament, with provisions that include banning the jailing of journalists, but raising the fines on publications "crimes" to 20000 JD's.

The major problem with press laws in Jordan has always been the lack of definition of what a press crime is. Article 5 of the current press law states that:
Publications shall have to show respect to the truth, and refrain from publishing any material that runs counter to the principles of freedom, national obligation, human rights and Arab-Islamic values.

Of course, what these things mean exactly is quite fluid. One might interpret the entire article to counter the principles of freedom, which would thus mean that publishing it in itself illegal. LOL.

Anyway, the National Guidance Committee in the house yesterday recommended reinstating jail for crimes relating to "insulting fathers of three monotheistic religions and their prophets", and crimes of disrespect to the king, as well as any case where a judge might see fit a jail sentence. The last one actually covers everything one might imagine. The committee left the recommended elevated fines in place and added the jail option. I am surprised that they didn't recommend dunking the offenders in boiling oil as well. The retarded parliament rejects tough sentences against so-called honor killings, but thinks that un-orthodox views should never be expressed, and should be punished by unreasonably tough measures. I'm nauseous.

So, the government wants to allow more latitude for press freedom, and the parliament wants more repression. As Batir Wardam aptly put it, this parliament is downright embarrassing. As I suspected earlier, the frenzy over THE CARTOONS was the catalyst for this massive drive against free expression.

The Jordan Press Association is against this turn of events, with the head, Tareq Momani, stating that the association can take care of these problems. The implication is that the disciplinary action taken by the JPA against Jihad Momani and Hashim Khalidi over publishing THE CARTOONS proves that the association can be just as repressive as the government. I'm even more nauseous.

Rula Hroub has a great column in Al Anbat. She correctly points out that the government rarely uses the press law to persecute journalists, but instead uses the criminal code. This allows for a fa├žade of press freedom, as only journalists who break the criminal code have problems. Problems relating to the definition of crimes such as "disrespect for the king" exist in the criminal code as well. If there is to be freedom of expression, clear definitions of terms such as libel and disrespect should be agreed upon. The more restricted the definition, the better. What we really need is an honest belief in freedom. Since our parliament really doesn't respect freedom, we shouldn't expect very much from them.



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