For Immediate Release
Jordan: Torture in Prisons Routine and Widespread
Reforms Fail to Tackle Abuse, Impunity Persists
AMMAN, Jordan - Jordan should end routine and widespread torture in its prisons, Human
Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch
called on the government to overhaul mechanisms for investigating,
disciplining and prosecuting abusers, and in particular to transfer
prosecutor's investigations into prison abuse from police to civilian
The 95-page report,
"Torture and Impunity in Jordan's Prisons: Reforms Fail to Tackle
Widespread Abuse," documents credible allegations of ill-treatment,
often amounting to torture, from 66 out of 110 prisoners interviewed at
random in 2007 and 2008, and in each of the seven of Jordan's 10
prisons visited. Human Rights Watch's evidence suggests that five
prison directors personally participated in torturing detainees.
"Torture in Jordan's prison system is widespread even two
years after King Abdullah called for reforms to stop it once and for
all," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights
Watch. "The mechanisms for preventing torture by holding torturers
accountable are simply not working."
The most common forms of torture include beatings with
cables and sticks and the suspension by the wrists from metal grates
for hours at a time, during which guards flog a defenseless prisoner.
Prison guards also torture prisoners for perceived infractions of
prison rules. Human Rights Watch found evidence that at times Islamists
accused or convicted of crimes against national security (Tanzimat)
were punished en masse.
Prison officials say beatings and other ill-treatment are
isolated incidents and that a prison reform program initiated in 2006
is improving prison conditions and accountability for abuse. Human
Rights Watch's research shows that while the reform program may well be
improving the chief areas of its focus - health services, overcrowding,
visitation, and recreation facilities - impunity for physical abuse
remains the norm.
In October 2007, an amendment to the Penal Code made
torture a crime for the first time, and in early 2008, the Public
Security Directorate (PSD) assigned prosecutors to investigate abuses
at seven prisons. But to date there have been no prosecutions under
In February 2008, the PSD allowed the National Center for
Human Rights to set up an office inside Swaqa prison. However, critical
reporting about a prison riot there in April 2008 led the PSD to stop
its cooperation with the center.
"Jordan has made some attempts to address the problem of
torture in prison, but the bottom line is that the measures have been
insufficient, and torture persists as a consequence," Whitson said.
Two separate incidents involving the torture and abuse of
large groups of detainees highlight failures in accountability. Despite
extensive evidence that guards in Juwaida and Swaqa prisons tortured
Islamist prisoners following a successful escape by two Islamist
prisoners from Juwaida in June 2007, the Jordanian authorities failed
to launch any investigation. In a third incident, the PSD, which
directs security agencies including the prison service, did launch an
extensive investigation into events surrounding the prison riot and
fire on April 14, 2008 at Muwaqqar prison that left three prisoners
dead. The investigators did not prosecute a guard who prisoners alleged
had tortured some of them just prior to the fire, included some who
died in it. An independent non-judicial investigation by the National
Center for Human Rights found ill-treatment at the heart of the prison
riot. Despite this evidence, the investigation concluded that no
official had done anything wrong.
Part of the problem lies in the authority of prison
officials to discipline internally, which is used as way of avoiding
formal prosecution of torturers. For example, in 2007, while the PSD
investigated 19 allegations of torture across Jordan, referring six to
court for prosecution, the directors of three prisons, Muwaqqar,
Qafqafa, and Swaqa, told Human Rights Watch that they had internally
disciplined six guards for abuse without involving the PSD. Prison
directors in Jordan have authority to settle abuse cases as
"misdemeanors," including ill-treatment, without resorting to the
"The PSD's reluctance to prosecute and punish torturers
within its ranks stems from a misguided desire to preserve the
reputation of the prison service," Whitson said. "Instead, protecting
guards who torture from prosecution tarnishes the image of the entire
profession, including those guards who fulfill their duties without
resorting to torture and abuse of prisoners."
Furthermore, Human Rights Watch pointed out that it is
police prosecutors and police judges who are responsible for
investigating, prosecuting and trying their fellow officers for prison
abuses, including torture, in the Police Court. Grievances officials,
who investigate prison abuses, referred cases for prosecutions only in
a small number of cases where there was overwhelming evidence.
Even where the government has prosecuted some egregious
cases of torture, the Police Court's verdicts have been flawed. In one
case, the Police Court sentenced former Swaqa prison director Majid
al-Rawashda to a fine of JOD 120 (around US$180) for ordering and
participating in the beating of 70 prisoners in August 2007. The court
found 12 other guards who had participated in the beatings not guilty
because they were "following orders." The court sentenced prison guards
who had beaten Firas Zaidan to death in Aqaba prison in May 2007 to
two-and-a-half years in prison. The court also reduced to
two-and-a-half years the sentence of guards who had beaten Abdullah
Mashaqba to death in Juwaida prison in 2004 because they were "in the
prime of their youth."
"The police and prison service cannot credibly investigate
itself," said Whitson. "Civilian prosecutors and judges should take
over all investigations of prison abuse to end impunity for torturers
and begin to provide redress for victims of torture."
Since beginning its prison reform program in 2006, Jordan
has sought international advice on improving prison conditions. The New
York-based Kerik Group provided training and advised on prison
management, equipment, and new construction, including a super-maximum
security prison with 240 solitary confinement-only cells to be opened
in late 2008. Currently, Austria's Ministry of Justice is in an
EU-sponsored "twinning project" with the PSD to reform the penitentiary
Human Rights Watch calls on Jordan's donors to address the
widespread torture, and to condition part of their assistance on the
establishment of independent investigation and prosecution mechanisms.