It’s Not Real Reform If You Can’t Criticize the King

Image by World Economic Forum

The security forces are reported to be interrogating 130 detainees whom they have determined are to be detained for 15 days. These detainees, who were arrested during protests this week might be charged with “threatening to undermine the regime.” The charges, if someone is convicted of them, carry a potential prison sentence of five years. Reuters reports that many of those being interrogated are teenagers. The Washington Post, meanwhile, says that Jordan’s military prosecutor has charged 89 protesters with “inciting violent revolt,” which carries a potential 15 year jail sentence.

The Reuters report tempers the jail sentences the activists face by saying “convictions in such cases are rare” and that during recent demonstrations last winter there were dozens of protesters who faced similiar charges who received pardons. One example is Uday Abu Issa, only 18 years old, who was sentenced to two years in prison for “undermining the King’s dignity” after he burned a picture of King Abdullah.

He was convicted on January 28th, 2012. About a month later, on February 29th, King Abdullah pardoned him. This means that he still spent more than thirty days in jail simply for burning a picture, which he said when interrogated that he did in solidarity with an unemployed man who set himself on fire due to his poverty. His action – burning the King’s picture – was deemed so threatening that he needed to be prosecuted for it. In a truly free society, if someone burned a picture of the King, nothing would happen.

Dignity is something that’s earned, not something that can be protected by the threat of jail time. In a true constitutional monarchy, if a critic of King Abdullah called for his removal, someone who disagrees with them should express their own opinion, argue with them, and say why constitutional monarchy is a good idea – not by threatening to have that person arrested.

To have true reform and democracy – rather than just token steps to buy time – all institutions, and the monarchy is no exception, must rest upon the will of the people, under laws agreed upon and passed by a democratically elected parliament with real power, with a Prime Minister chosen by such a parliament, where none of these institutions can be suspended or dissolved simply by royal decree. Until Jordan has that, any token measures that the government announces are merely cosmetic.

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