Anti-Terrorism: Citizens Stuck in the Gray

Concerns have been raised lately about the new anti-terrorism laws on the verge of implementation. Specifically in relation to their infringement of civil liberties. The government however has reacted quickly to these concerns stating:

Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher told reporters that the proposed bill would not override or disregard people’s rights or freedoms because it is aimed against “those groups that target citizens’ safety and security and not people’s right to free expression.” “We are not a police state and we won’t be turned into one. The new law is being examined carefully and it will take into consideration similar anti-terrorism bills in other countries,” Muasher said. However, he added that “we will no longer tolerate an opinion that condones or supports the killing of innocent civilians under any pretext.” One week following the Nov. 9 bombings of three Amman hotels, which killed 60 people, the government announced plans to issue an anti-terrorism bill as part of new protective measures. It was not immediately clear how such a bill will apply checks and balances in order to uphold the rights and freedoms of Jordanians. The new bill, to be given urgent status on Parliament’s agenda when the 110-member Lower House reconvenes early December, will set harsh penalties for anyone who condones or supports acts of terror. According to Interior Ministry officials, the bill will also grant authorities the power to hold any terror suspect for questioning indefinitely, and to issue penalties to those who seek to endanger the lives and property of citizens, whether inside or outside the country. Jordan is the first Arab country to join the ranks of Western states in issuing an anti-terrorism bill… The anti-terrorism acts include measures to identify, prosecute, convict and punish terrorists. They give law enforcement and security agencies in these countries new investigative tools to gather intelligence and prosecute suspected terrorists. Most controversially, they allow for suspected terrorists to be held for long periods without charge. [full article]

First, I have to admire one thing. Marwan Muasher has done an extraordinary job in these past 2 weeks as the government spokesperson. If this was the same government of 8 months ago we would be flooded with mismanagement and an onslaught of misinformation. So I have to give some credit where it is deserved. (I’m learning to balance out praise and criticism equally) Second, you have key words like "suspects" and "opinions" which are completely subjective and open to interpretation. These lead us to some arguments that were drawn over the Patriot Act post 9/11 such as ‘who should be considered a suspect?’ and ‘what do we mean by an ‘indefinite amount of time’?’ and in this case (which I think is the whole 9 yards) ‘what is considered an opinion condoning these acts?’ As I’ve stated before, the Middle East conflicts in full bloom today are a brilliant assortment of gray areas. There is no black or white. However laws like these will seek to create tones of black and white as declared by the government. In other words, what the government says is black, will be black and what it says is white shall be white. If the government considers what you just said, that article you just wrote, that organization you just formed, that speech you just gave as condoning terrorism, then off you go to Jwaidah prison. This gives way to a very complex situation that depends fully on the subjective nature of the authorities. So the wording of these laws is going to be essential to the consequences of their effects. The realistic part of me is assuming that the government will in fact leap on the chance to pass a law which gives full power to authorities and leaves the citizen stranded in the gray. Though the optimistic side of me says the King’s vision of modernization and freedom will tone down the rhetoric of such laws or at least put the fine points in place. Will it help catch terrorists? Possibly. But who suffers the most meanwhile? In most cases I am willing to place all bets on the everyday citizen who says something anti-Israeli or anti-American; and therein lies the fault line. This specific law will develop a tendency to encompass all those who say something that is not in line with the government’s official position; be they two people walking down the streets or (the greater concern) journalists. This in turn will have adverse effects on the development of our free media and of course freedom of speech. Because after all, when people say "freedom of speech" they really mean "freedom of the media", in the sense that no one cares what the everyday person has to say unless it’s written on paper. Third, "indefinitely". Well Jordan isn’t exactly the United States. You are not read your Miranda rights when you get arrested. Usually this scenario is replaced with the suspect on the ground in the fetal position as 2 or 3 ganwas (batons) come crashing down on his head (I’m partly kidding here). So it’s not like we’re going to miss that whole "I get one telephone call to my lawyer" situation you see on late night dramas like ‘Law and Order’. People in Jordan are obviously tortured in many cases while in custody. On the other hand will this make suspects criminals without really convicting them? Can we merely suspect someone of terrorism and throw them in prison without any evidence or conviction for that matter, treating them as if they were sentenced criminals but under the label of "suspect"? In other words we will have people just hanging around between the realms of "suspected" and "convicted", stuck in the gray. This law will not depend on the wording sadly, it is from start to finish a violation of human rights to some extent. Again, this all comes down to their implementation at the end of the day. Jordan being the first Arab country to do this, these laws are being compared to the Patriot Act. My fear lies essentially in the fact that in Jordan there will be no accountability as there is in the United States. Authorities will use these laws to the full extent and as liberally as possible with no fear of media or citizen. In other words, while the government may hope to avoid a Police state it may in the process be creating one and the citizens will be stuck in the gray, unsure of what they can say or do.


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