On 9 August 2023, human rights defender and journalist Ahmad Hasan Al-Zoubi was handed a one-year prison sentence for a Facebook post in which he criticised the government’s handling of a strike against the elevating of fuel costs. The Amman Court of First Instance, acting in its capacity as an Appeals Court, issued a decision that rescinded the prior ruling of the Court of First Instance and increased the human rights defender’s sentence from two months to one year in prison for so-called “incitement of conflict between the elements of the nation.”
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Ahmad Hasan Al-Zoubi is a Jordanian human rights defender, journalist, columnist and satirical writer. He is the founder and owner of the Sawaleif website, a platform where he and other human rights defenders, journalists activists and writers regularly publish their work, including opinion articles. He also publishes in national, regional and international media, including newspapers and magazines. The human rights defender’s work focuses on issues related to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of the press, as well as civil and political rights in Jordan. Most recently, the human rights defender was a leading voice in denouncing and campaigning against the restrictive Cybercrime Law which was recently approved by the Jordanian parliament on 27 July 2023.
On 9 August 2023, the Amman Court of First Instance, acting in its capacity as an Appeals Court, issued a decision sentencing the human rights defender Ahmad Hasan Al-Zoubi to one year in prison. The Court also imposed a fine of JOD 50 (approximately EUR 64) and directed him to cover the costs of the legal proceedings. The Appeals Court rescinded the earlier decision issued by the Court of First Instance which sentenced him to two months in prison. The Court convicted the human rights defender of the misdemeanor of “incitement of conflict between the elements of the nation.” The decision was issued based on Article 150 of the Jordanian Penal Code of 1960 and Article 15 of the Cybercrime Law of 2015.
On 2 and 8 July 2023, both parties appealed the decision of the Court of First Instance which was issued on 22 June 2023. The original decision convicted the human rights defender of the same charges. However, on that occasion the Court of First Instance sentenced the human rights defender to two months in prison, a JOD 50 fine and ordered him to cover the costs of the legal proceedings. Notably, this sentence was a reduction from the minimum of six months, as stipulated by law, due to mitigating circumstances cited by the Court. The human rights defender was found not guilty of other charges.
As the most recent decision was issued at the appeals level, it cannot be subject to further appeals. Moreover, the decision holds immediate enforceability, with no components of the sentence being subject to suspension. In response to this verdict, Ahmad Hasan Al-Zoubi’s legal representation, the National Forum for the Defence of Freedoms, has announced their intention to petition the Minister of Justice for an annulment of the ruling. However, it is important to clarify that this legal recourse, though pursued as a final measure, does not preclude the execution of the sentence. The human rights defender’s legal representatives further stated that “[the decision] clearly underscores the authorities’ apparent efforts to narrow the spaces for civil work, despite its claim of political reform […]”
The Facebook post for which Ahmad Hasan Al-Zoubi was convicted featured the following expressions: “How much blood must be shed from our children to satiate your thirst? ‘Even if blood is spilled, the oil prices will remain unaffected.’ Here, the blood is spilled, Your Excellency the Minister. We are naught but fuel for your hearths.” The human rights defender shared the post during the period of the Ma’an strike crisis by truck drivers in October 2022, in which he criticized the authorities’ handling of the strike against the elevation of fuel costs.
The sentencing of Ahmad Hasan Al-Zoubi because of a social media post in which he expressed his discontent with the government’s policy is not an isolated incident. The Cybercrime Law of 2015 has been alarmingly used to target other human rights defenders, journalists and activists over the past 8 years.
This ruling and others that have targeted the right to freedom of opinion and expression confirmed the concerns and fears of human rights defenders and civil society organisations about the issuance of a new and even more restrictive Cybercrime Law, which was approved by the Jordanian parliament on 27 July 2023. This new law, which only awaits the ratification of the King, would further restrict the already limited space for human rights defenders and civil society in Jordan. It includes multiple vague provisions, expands the scope of criminalisation and disproportionately exaggerates the penalties relative to the existing Cybercrime Law of 2015, as stated by the National Forum for the Defence of Freedoms and other international organisations.
Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned by the conviction and judicial harassment of the human rights defender and journalist Ahmad Hasan Al-Zoubi. It believes he is being targeted solely as a result of his peaceful and legitimate work in the defence of human rights in Jordan. Furthermore, Front Line Defenders is concerned about the chilling effect of this sentence and the continuous shrinking of civic space for human rights defenders in Jordan, especially with the issuance of the new Cybercrime Law. It urges the Jordanian authorities to immediately and unconditionally stop using the Cybercrime Law and other security laws to justify the persecution of human rights defenders.