One interesting story floating under the radar these days, past the looming shadow of a tragic football game and its impact on national identity, is ironically linked to that very topic. Or, at the very least, to the broader issue of crime and punishment in the Kingdom.
On November 9th, Tahir Nassar, a 45 year old Jordanian lawyer from Rusaifa, ran for a seat in his electoral district of Zarqa during the parliamentary elections. Nassar lost, but things got worse as about 18 days later, Nassar found himself detained in a prison in Salt, awaiting trial in the military-bound State Security Court. What was his crime? Nassar published a manifesto for the purposes of his electoral run that, according to Human Rights Watch, stated the following:
“…the discrimination between citizens on the basis of the birthplace by which this nation without equality distinguishes itself… in all states of the advanced world the scientific degree is the basis for obtaining jobs in the public sector, whereas in Jordan the basis is a birth certificate.” [source]
And with that in mind, Nassar called for “the equal treatment of all Jordanians under the law, as provided in the constitution,” a crime that has been deemed by the state as “undermining national unity” and “stirring up sectarian strife,” thus open to be tried by the State Security court; the same judicial body that is made up of military judges and tries people for crimes like treason and terrorism. HRW has claimed that the authorities waited until international election monitors left the country before “clamping down on a candidate that sought reform.”
Nassar lawyer says she has been stopped several times from visiting her client in prison. In the same article, the head of the Associations’ Freedoms Committee, Fathi Abu Nassar, says that the state security prosecutor has claimed he, and the court, should have no jurisdiction over this case as it is a matter for the civil judiciary (as opposed to military). This would make Nassar’s detention for nearly three weeks now, a trampling on his constitutional rights.
While this case is no different than the many Jordanian civilians who have experienced a state security court for stirring sectarian strife, Nassar’s one advantage here seems to be the fact that he’s a member of the lawyer’s association, and in times like this, it’s good to have a lot of lawyers on your side. The lawyer’s association has continued to ask why Nassar’s case has remained in the hands of the state security court despite the court’s prosecutor having concluded that he didn’t have jurisdiction. It seems the court file was yet to be transferred, a process that managed to keep Nassar behind bars in the meantime. In Nassar’s case, his words were printed and subsequently seem to have fallen in the unfortunate trappings of the infamous Press and Publications law, which has had a tradition of stifling public opinion over the years.
So here’s the question that begs itself in light of recent events: if someone calls for an end to discrimination between citizens and claims that all citizens should be equal, a claim that is guaranteed by the country’s own constitution, why is this person being tried for inciting sectarian strife? Is to simply speak about discrimination and the identity issue an attempt to stir sectarian strife? Does merely discussing this qualify as a crime?
Why are any attempts to grapple with this issue deemed to be incendiary by the state? Why, even in an election where a candidate’s materials is supposed to be subject to public discourse, are we stifling any opinion that claims we have a problem with the identity issue? In doing so, does the state not automatically demonstrate that we quite clearly do indeed have a problem with this issue?
*Photo source: free tahir nassar facebook group.