Jordanian authorities storm protest critical of king
Jordanian authorities arrested two-dozen political activists following a protest critical of King Abdullah II that called for a change of government, dpa reported.
Anti-riot forces stormed a sit-in opposite the prime ministry in Amman after participants protesting the ongoing detention of six pro-democracy activists chanted slogans criticising the Jordanian monarch and threatening "regime change."
To date, Jordan's 13-month old protest movement has been largely peaceful, with activists calling for "regime reform" rather than regime change and alleging corruption by key advisers within the Royal Court. But in a sign that Jordan's tolerance of post-Arab Spring free speech is waning, the government is moving to detain activists for acts deemed insulting to the monarch.
According to eyewitnesses and participants, police moved in at the moment some 150 activists began chanting slogans critical of the "residents of Raghdan palace"- an indirect reference to King Abdullah and a violation of the country's penal code.
"As soon as participants raised slogans that were critical of the regime, gendarmerie forces stormed the protest with force," Mohammed Qatashat, protest participant and organiser of the Free Tafileh Movement, a Jordanian pro-democracy youth movement, told dpa.
Eyewitnesses said participants also warned that Jordanians would "topple the regime" should its "injustices against the people" continue.
Jordanian authorities said that police arrested 24 activists for "unlawful and disorderly gathering" in violation of the country's public gathering law, not for the content of their slogans.
"The participants were stopping traffic and we requested them several times to relocate their sit-in, which they refused," the spokesman for the public security department Mohammed Khatib told dpa.
"We consider any gathering that disrupts public life to be a non-peaceful protest and in this case, we responded appropriately," he said.
According to Khatib, police interrogated the two-dozen activists and transferred them to the judiciary, an indication that authorities will likely make further arrests.
Activists put the number of those arrested at 35, and said several had been referred to the military State Security Court for slandering the King, a charge that carries an up to three-years in prison.
Khatib declined to confirm whether the arrested protestors face charges of defaming the king.
In a statement to the state news agency Petra, government spokesman Rakan Majali said the arrests came as a response to protestors "violating common decency" and stressed Amman's "respect" for "peaceful, civilised and legal" expressions of opinion.
Earlier in March, six pro-democracy activists were detained in the town of Tafileh, 179 kilometres south of Amman, for slandering the King and "inciting illegal acts."
The six activists deny the charges, claiming their arrests were retribution for statements accusing senior officials of corruption - including the head of the country's intelligence department and the brother of Queen Rania.
In a statement on Saturday, Britain-based rights organisation Amnesty International called on Jordan to release the six activists, whom it said were being held for "exercising their right to freedom of expression" and being "punished for their pro-reform views."