AMMAN: There have been calls for Jordan to free a journalist who was detained over a COVID-19 article.
Jamal Haddad is accused by authorities of “endangering the security of the country and causing sedition and disturbing public order” after an editorial on the Al-Wakaai news website asked if officials had jumped the queue and received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is due to arrive in the country next month.
Haddad has been in detention since Dec. 24, with journalists, parliamentarians, and campaign groups demanding he be freed.
Rakan Sayydeh, who heads Jordan’s press syndicate, issued a strongly worded statement calling for Haddad’s release on bail. He said he had “personally delivered the request for a bail release on Sunday to the head judge at the state security court.”
Basil Okor, publisher of the JO24 website, organized a Twitter storm using the hashtag “Release Jamal Haddad.” He also urged Jordanian news websites to go dark for a few hours in protest.
Journalists would “not stop their protest until their colleague is released and this act of detaining journalists stops,” Okor told Arab News.
Fahed Al-Khitan, a leading columnist with close ties to the government, wrote a column in the daily Al-Ghad newspaper criticizing the arrest.
He said the writer had mixed up the fact that some Jordanian government officials had publicly taken the Chinese/UAE vaccine with the news of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine being rolled out in the US and UK.
“But does this mistake warrant his detention? No,” he wrote.
Adam Coogle, the deputy director of the MENA division at Human Rights Watch, condemned the continued arrest of journalists carrying out critical coverage.
Such actions by the Jordanian authorities “seek to muzzle the media sector as a whole and prevent articulation of views that challenge official government messaging,” he told Arab News. “All of Jordan’s rhetoric around respect for rule of law means nothing when authorities flagrantly subvert media legal protections.”
Sharif Mansour, the MENA coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said that Jordanian authorities could have responded to the legitimate concerns raised by Haddad in a transparent and open manner.
“By invoking terrorism and national security, the authorities aim to intimidate Haddad and other journalists who question the government response to the pandemic. Haddad must be released immediately.”
The Vienna-based International Press Institute “strongly condemned” the arrest and demanded Haddad’s immediate release.
Jordanian government spokesman Ali Ayyed did not respond to requests for comment on the detention.