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RSF protests censorship of newspapers following fraud scandal

(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Prime Minister Ali Abou-al-Ragheb, RSF protested the publication ban imposed on the most recent issue of the fortnightly "Al Majd". The newspaper planned to publish an article on a fraud scandal which is currently causing a stir in Jordan. "This censorship constitutes a fresh example of the decline in public freedoms in Jordan. Journalists should be able to publish all information that might shed light on important matters," stated Robert Ménard, the organisation's secretary-general. "We ask that you take measures that will allow journalists to give normal coverage to judicial matters," he added.

The organisation recalled that restrictive measures against the press were adopted in October 2001. They notably provide for "temporary or permanent" closure of newspapers that publish information that is "defamatory, false, damaging to national unity or the state's reputation, or that incites strike action, illegal public meetings or disrupts public order". These press offences, punishable by one to three years' imprisonment, now fall under the State Security Court's jurisdiction.

According to information gathered by RSF, the State Security Court's public prosecutor, Colonel Mahmoud Obeidat, ordered the publication ban on the most recent issue of the fortnightly "Al Majd". Fahd Rimaoui, the newspaper's editor-in-chief, was getting ready to publish an article on the fraud scandal in its 4 March 2002 issue. According to Rimaoui, the article was to provide "new information on the fraud scandal," which was allegedly caused by "the absence of legislative power." Jordan has had no Parliament since its dissolution in June. Rimaoui, who was arrested for three days in January for "writing and publishing false information that was liable to undermine the state's prestige", said the newspaper would be published without the offending information.

According to the authorities, under the pretext of financing an information technology project for the Jordanian intelligence services, Jordanian businessman Majd Chamayleh obtained credit facilities and loans from several Jordanian banks without providing sufficient guarantees. He has been on the run since January and is the prime suspect in the scandal. Seven people, including four businessmen, have been arrested so far on charges of "aiding and abetting the misappropriation of public funds and falsification of documents" belonging to the Jordanian intelligence services.

On 18 February, the weekly newspaper "Al Hadath", which was to publish statements by two former intelligence service heads named by the authorities in this affair, was forced to publish blank sections of pages instead of the interviews. In his 18 February editorial, "Al Hadath" editor Nidal Mansour indicated that individuals had called and warned him not to print the interview with General Samih Batikhi, former head of Jordanian intelligence, and his deputy Zouhair Zannouneh.

Some time earlier, State Security Court Public Prosecutor Mahmoud Obeidat barred the Jordanian media from publishing any statement or press releases from persons implicated in the fraud scandal.

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