The IPI global network of journalists, editors and executives for independent journalism welcomed the move by King Abdullah of Jordan to pardon those convicted of lèse-majesté, the crime of insulting the king. However, IPI also called on Jordan to repeal the law altogether and so end the chilling effect on journalism of a law often misused to stifle political dissent and criticism of the government.

On October 2, King Abdullah directed the government to look into all cases related to lèse-majesté under Article 195 of Jordan’s Penal code. In a Royal Court statement, the king granted a special pardon for those convicted of lèse-majesté. The pardon was directed to be put into effect “as soon as possible”, according to a cabinet session on the matter on Sunday, October 3. According to Jordan’s former minister of justice, Bassam al-Talhouni, the pardon would apply to between 70 and 75 people.

“The decision to pardon all those convicted for lèse-majesté is a welcome step in acknowledging that laws criminalizing heads of state and others in power have no place in a democratic country”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi stated.  “At the same time, the move underscores the need for further steps to provide full legal protection for media freedom in Jordan and ensure that the conditions exist for free political debate in the country and for journalists to scrutinize the country’s rulers without fear of retaliation. For this reason, IPI calls for a full repeal of the lèse-majesté law and other laws unduly restricting media freedom.”

In Jordan, journalists, as well as activists and other individuals, have been charged with insulting the royal family, both directly and indirectly, in connection with critical opinions, poems, satirical drawings or social media posts. Article 195 punishes insult of the king or undermining the king’s dignity, including through written or oral messages or a picture or comic drawing, or posting such messages, with one to three years in prison. The law also criminalizes similar offenses against the queen, the crown prince, other regents of the throne, or a member of the Public Prosecution Authority.

IPI Executive Board member Etaf Roudan also welcomed the king’s pardon, stating that “the law should be shaped in the interest of freedom of speech and in the interest of the people of Jordan”. “The pardon is a step in the right direction”, she said.

Roudan, manager of Radio al-Balad in Jordan, highlighted the need to carry out a process of decriminalization of free speech in the country. “There are around twenty (laws and regulations) to restrict freedom of speech in Jordan, besides of the media law, which luckily does not include a prison penalty for journalists. There is the criminal law, the terrorism prevention law, the protection of state secrets law, the cybercrime law, and the lèse-majesté law”, Roudan told IPI. “Journalists can go to jail for what they write, not because of the media law, but they are convicted on the ground of one of the laws mentioned above, including Article 195 on the grounds of insulting the King.”

According to Roudan, an increased number of lèse-majesté charges was reported in the past few years, due to the impact of the Arab Spring movement and the public demand for real political and economic reforms as well as an end to corruption, she explained.

One case under Article 195 was registered against a journalist. In April 2012, Jamal al Mohtaseb was arrested for violating the law. He was released a few days later after several sit-ins of journalists.

The king’s pardon is a “personal decision”, stemming from “political and international pressures” that urged Jordan to drop the charges, Roudan explained. “We should use this momentum and focus on other media and criminal laws impeding free speech in Jordan. These laws should be changed so that journalists will not be put in jail for what they write or say.”