Middle East

Jordan arrests two journalists after complaint by finance minister

Free speech advocates are calling for the release of two Jordanian journalists who were arrested on Tuesday over a complaint by the country’s finance minister after a report accused him of tax evasion.

Omar Malhas, the minister, said the report by Shadi al-Zinati and Omar al-Mahrama on news website Jfranews was false. Now they face charges of violating the country’s Press and Publication Law and Cybercrime Law.

On Wednesday, dozens of media employees gathered in front of the headquarters of the Jordan Press Association (JPA) in Amman to protest the arrest of Zinaty and Mahrama and denounce sections of the law that make it easy to detain journalists.

They held a banner featuring a quote by Jordan’s King Abdullah promising that journalists would not be prosecuted for doing their work.

Khaled Qudah, the chair of JPA’s Freedoms Committee, said the cybercrime law shackled journalists.

“JPA is working diligently to release Zinaty and Mahrama because of our belief that these arrests strike at the heart of freedom of expression in Jordan,” Qudah was quoted as saying by Jordanian newspaper Alghad.

He wondered why the two journalists were in jail while the case was pending.

Jordanian MP Saddah Alhabashneh said the arrests "disgraced" freedom of expression in Jordan.

He accused the government of "muffling" criticism after its latest economic decisions that aim to impoverish Jordanians, Jfranews reported.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based watchdog, urged the immediate release of the Jordanian journalists.

"Jordanian authorities must not use broad and vaguely defined laws to imprison journalists and stifle media freedom," Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator, said in a statement.

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