The government floated a bill yesterday to amend the Public Gathering Law. The (temporary) law, which came about during the Abul Ragheb government back in 2003, basically bans the hosting of any public events (specifically marches, rallies, demonstrations), without getting approval from the governor 3 days prior to such an event. Also, the law makes it lawful for the governor to use force in order to disperse rallies that “deviate” (a favorite word by Jordanian officials) from their original (and approved) purpose.
The amendment introduced recently by the government was, according to them, an attempt to “forge ahead with political reform programme”â€¦ and to “enhance participation and democratic culture and guarantee freedom of expression”.
Let’s see how they did it.
According to the amended law, Jordanians are still required to seek permission from provincial governors to hold rallies or assemblies.
…In the case of gatherings where an approval remains mandatory, the amended law has shortened the period of response to the application for permission from 72 hours to two days. If the provincial governor does not issue a response within these 48 hours, applicants are entitled to hold the activity planned without legal liability, according to the amendment.
The law had a unanimous backing from conservative MPs, who praised the governmentâ€™s efforts to improve freedoms.
Not only did I think this was someone’s cruel attempt at a joke, I couldn’t believe that time and energy was spent on this amendment at all. Basically, nothing has changed except the waiting period. Or to put this in another way that is more familiar to Jordanians: instead of having to wait 72 hours to get rejected, you now only have to wait 24 hours. They essentially adjusted the bureaucratic levers, which is akin to giving a termite-infested house a new paint job and calling it “new”. Moreover, whenever people praise the “efforts” of the government for “trying” to “improve” freedoms, it always sounds like the euphemisms you would hear during a parent-teacher conference, where the latter uses words like “special” and “unique” to mean “dumb” and “retarded”.
To give some credit (as people tend to require of me for some reason), some improvements were indeed made, but this law has always been altogether disturbing for me that I don’t think credit should be given at all. Nevertheless, political parties and charitable organizations no longer need a green light from the Interior Minister to hold their routine meetings and/or activities, which was silly in the first place. I sometimes wonder if it would be just easier to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front, instead of spending all this time and energy on laws to curb their influence.
Anyways, I found what some dissenting MPs had to say about the amendment, which of course passed, pretty interesting:
Deputy Ali Dalaeen (Karak, 5th District) called on fellow MPs to reject the bill outright in order â€œto preserve the democratic processâ€.
â€œEvery time we feel a breathing space in freedoms, the government brings a law that suppresses us again,â€ said the lawmaker.
Several MPs echoed Dalaeenâ€™s view, charging that the bill, as it stands, â€œwill tarnish the Kingdomâ€™s reputationâ€.
Several lawmakers suggested that deputies vote in favour of an article that grants Jordanians complete freedom to stage demonstrations and gatherings on condition they â€œinformâ€ the governor with their plan instead of seeking official permission.
But this proposal was shot down when it was put to vote.
I smell democracy!