Jordanian activists sent to military tribunal, face long terms

Jordanian activists sent to military tribunal, face long terms

Twelve pro-democracy activists were transferred to a military tribunal for their participation in protests over the weekend that vowed "regime change," activists and Jordanian officials said Monday, dpa reported.

The activists face 10-year prison terms for chanting slogans in a Saturday protest deemed as an insult to and public criticism of King Abdullah II - a taboo in Jordan and a direct violation of the penal code.

Even as officials referred the activists to a military tribunal, pro-reformists carried their protests into a third day, with actions in the capital and the southern cities of Theiban and Tafileh late Monday.

According to Mohammed Haraseen, a member of the activists' legal team, the 12 face charges of threatening the stability of the regime, illegal gathering, slandering the monarch and inciting unrest - a package of charges that can collectively earn each detainee a 10-year prison term.

The jailed activists have admitted to chanting slogans critical of the King and urging "regime change," claiming that strongly-worded statements fell within the boundaries of free speech.

The call for "regime change" marked an escalation in activists' demands. Prior to Saturday's demonstration, they had limited their demands to "regime reform" rather than "regime change," with activists accusing key advisers within the Royal Court of corruption.

By late Sunday, the government had released 28 of 40 protestors detained Saturday. That demonstration, outside the prime ministry, was a protest against the arrest of six political activists jailed last month for slandering the King.

Several of the released activists claimed the Jordanian security services has subjected them to "torture" and said that police and anti-riot forces had beaten and "humiliated" them after their arrest.

"Some of us were stripped naked and beaten in front of other detainees," said one activist, who declined to use his real name due to security concerns.

The activists' defence team says they are currently gathering evidence of what they believe to be "systematic human rights abuses" by Jordanian authorities.

"Several of the released detainees exhibit clear signs of torture and we are running independent medical examinations to build a case against the state," Haraseen told dpa.

Jordan's Public Security Department confirmed that the 12 activists were being held in a prison in the desert region of Mawaqqar pending further questioning but refuted the accusations about torture as "baseless."

"The Jordanian police do not torture, do not beat and any claim is a lie and a direct attempt to harm the image of Jordan," police spokesman Mohammed Khatib told dpa.

Saturday's arrests marked the latest in an ongoing crackdown of political activists that observers say is a sign that Amman's tolerance of Jordan's 13-month old protest movement is beginning to wane.

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 contrast to other Arab states, Jordan's protest movement has been largely peaceful.

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