Update 1: King Abdullah’s Pardons Get Murkier

Update: Mohammad Issa Daamas, the detainee who was not pardoned was connected to the killing of a USAID employee, Lawrence Foley, in 2002. It seems as though they may have backed down under US pressure and then let King Abdullah save face by saying it was the cabinet that made the decision.

The recent pardons of jailed members of the Jordanian jihadist movement just got murkier. Today, the state news agency changing its story and saying that five detainees, instead of six, will be pardoned, and that the cabinet recommended that the King issue pardons, rather than the King instructing the government to release them. This is all very strange, as decisions are made with little accountability and no answers even as the government pledges reforms.

Today, Petra, the state news agency, removed the article about the King granting the pardons to six individuals from their home page. According to the original article, the King instructed the government to “take legal measures to release a number of detainees.” It was presented as the King’s decision, and his picture was displayed prominently at the top (The original article is missing from the home page but can still be found by clicking here).

In its place is another article entitled “Cabinet recommends to king release of a number of detainees.” This article, though also very brief, presents a different account of the pardons. According to the new article, the cabinet decided to recommend to the King that pardons be issued to five of the six detainees. The remaining detainee, Mohammad Issa Daamas was not recommended for a pardon, according to Sami Matiyyah, who is government spokesman in addition to serving as Culture Minister and State Minister for Media Affairs.

This is all very strange. No official explanation for the pardons has been given, and the government has changed its story about how they were implemented. Given that all real decision-making power in Jordan resides with one person – the King – one cannot help but imagine that the story was changed to throw up a smokescreen, to make it seem as though the cabinet was involved. It’s impossible to know what really happened, but isn’t it possible that the King simply changed his mind, and then decided to make it look as though the cabinet was involved in the decision so that it would seem as though things were changing?

The bottom line is that as long as decisions like this continue to be made without explanation or accountability, it’s impossible to take seriously the King, or the government, when they claim things are changing.

Pardons for Six Jailed Jihadists Issued by King Abdullah

Today King Abdullah issued pardons for six jailed members of the Jordanian jihadist movement. The pardon was announced in a brief article on Petra, the state news agency. This announcement is a very interesting one, because of its timing and the nature of the announcement itself.

First, the timing. It comes on the heels of the King’s decision to release eighteen jailed protesters who called for the end of the monarchy, and right after eleven men were arrested for an Al-Qaeda-linked plot to assassinate Western diplomats and bomb shopping centers.

Second, the announcement itself. The article on the state news agency, Petra states simply that the King has directed the government to release six detainees, and gives their names: Mohammad Jamil Arabiyat, Mohammed Issa Du’mos, Mujahid Nabil Abu Harthiya, Ahmad Yousef Rayyan, Tareq Omar Hassan Zakarneh and Mustafa Yousef Siyam. It has nothing on what they were in prison for, no reason for the pardon, and indeed nothing at all about them other than their names.

An article released by Trend News Service includes more information. It says that they were members of the Jordanian jihadist movement accused (according to the movement’s attorney) of planning a bomb plot against an unnamed security officer in 2001. The jihadist movement confirmed their release, and said that most of its remaining prisoners (there were 54 prior to their release, and 48 detainees now) were being held without charges. According to the article, outside observers believe the King released the six due to pressure from their tribes.

Given the lack of information it is difficult to obtain answers about this. Why did they decide to release the six detainees now? Did the King succumb to tribal pressure? Is he attempting to appear conciliatory towards Islamists? There are no answers about this.

Given recent political turmoil in Jordan, is this another attempt by the King to appear conciliatory prior to an election the opposition has declared it is going to boycott? There are no answers here, and it appears that this may be yet another attempt to convince the people that Jordan is trying to reform when in reality nothing is happening.