Jordan's Intelligence and Security Forces Threatening and Blackmailing Activists in U.S., Canada, Sweden, and Turkey, Detaining and Torturing Exile Who Returned to Jordan
(Washington D.C., June 27, 2023): Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate (GID) and Public Security Directorate (PSD or Amn 'Am) have been harassing, intimidating, threatening, disappearing, and torturing Jordanian activists abroad and their families, friends, employees, and work associates in Jordan, in clear violation of international law and national laws, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) in an investigation released today.
The US and other governments should investigate these abuses, impose sanctions on the responsible Jordanian security officials and ensure the safety and protection of their citizens and residents.
"Nearly five years since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Jordanian authorities are still copying from the dictators' handbooks to target and punish Jordanian democracy activists abroad who have been critical of the regime and pushing for much-needed democratic change in the country," said Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN's Executive Director. "The very least the US and other governments can do is protect their targeted residents and demand that Jordan ends its ongoing repression and repeated violations."
DAWN documented the extraterritorial harassment, intimidation, detention, or torture of four Jordanian activists by Jordanian authorities, interviewing seven Jordanian activists and reviewing documented evidence supporting their claims. The four include residents of the United States and Turkey, and citizens of Canada and Sweden. The organization is aware of two other cases, one of a U.S. citizen of Jordanian origin residing in the U.S., and another a Jordanian in Sweden, whom Jordanian authorities have also harassed and intimidated. DAWN also identified two officials at the GID, Raed Samama'ah (Abu Walid) and Assem Al Dhmour (Abu Hashem), who together with GID's director, Ahmad Husni, are responsible for the conduct and activities of GID employees and either knew and authorized this campaign, or should have known and failed to prevent it.
Swedish Citizen, Anonymous
DAWN interviewed two Jordanian activists on May 22 and 23, 2023, and May 29, 2023, respectively, about the case of a Swedish activist of Palestinian origin whom Jordanian authorities forcibly disappeared and tortured in Amman from February 15 to 24, 2023, during a visit to the country. The identity of the man is being kept confidential to protect him from retaliation. According to the two activists, a letter from the Swedish Embassy and a medical report reviewed by DAWN, the Jordanian authorities transferred the man nine days after his arrest on February 15 to a police station with a fractured and displaced rib and numerous bruises. Security officers escorted him to the airport on February 24 and deported him to Sweden, but only after the Swedish Embassy's intervention and a relative buying him a flight ticket to Sweden.
According to the letter from the Swedish Embassy to the PSD dated February 22, the GID prevented the Swedish activist from contacting anyone since they forcibly disappeared him in Amman on February 15. The letter mentions that the Jordanian authorities first arrested him on January 19 and released him on the same day after confiscating his Swedish passport, mobile phone, and laptop at the police station in Ajloun, a town 76 kms north of Amman. According to the two Jordanian activists, an anonymous caller then asked the Swedish activist to go to PSD headquarters in Amman to pick up his belongings on February 15, where GID officers instead detained him. The next day, GID officers blindfolded, handcuffed, and moved him to an unknown location as security officers, many of whom were heavily armed and wearing masks, repeatedly intimidated him by cocking their guns and making sounds that gave the impression they were beating someone next to him while he was blindfolded and handcuffed.
The two activists told DAWN that GID officers denied the Swedish activist any phone calls to his family, a lawyer, or the Swedish Embassy and his family and friends did not know of his whereabouts during this time. Security officers shoved him, threatened him with physical violence, and kept him in a cold room with open windows on the first night. They intentionally turned a fan on him and deliberately made loud noises at night to prevent him from sleeping and then held him in solitary confinement in a basement for the remaining eight days of his detention. They demanded that he spies on Jordanians on the authorities' behalf and asked him questions about Jordanian activists, including Alaa Alfazza, a Jordanian journalist in Sweden and a member of The Gathering of Jordan's Sons in Exile (Multaqa Abnaa Alardon Filmahjar), a Jordanian opposition group. The GID officers also asked him about the names and nationalities of Human Rights Watch staff whom they claimed were meeting with former Jordanian prisoners, they said.
Since March 2023, the GID has been harassing and intimidating Azem Hammad, a Jordanian asylum seeker in Ohio, in an attempt to force him to quit his activism and affiliation with the Democratic Platform (Almanbar Aldemocraty), a recently-established organization by Jordanians in exile in the United States, Canada, and European countries, which works on exposing Jordanian abuses and providing support to victims. The GID threatened Hammad with imprisonment by reminding him of the fate of activists who did not cooperate with them and whom they imprisoned as a result. Hammad had fled Jordan in February 2019, because the Jordanian authorities were pursuing him due to his peaceful activism. He applied for asylum in the United States in 2019.
According to Hammad, whom DAWN interviewed on May 25, 2023, GID officers first approached him on March 22 through an intermediary over the Messenger social media app. In a subsequent phone call on March 23, a GID officer promised Hammad to drop all arrest warrants or any case against him in Jordan. The officer additionally promised Hammad payments in return for his cooperation to end his Jordan-related activism and Democratic Platform activities in the United States. Another GID officer contacted Hammad with the same offer on April 22. Hammad declined these offers, he told DAWN.
On May 1, Hammad received numerous calls from Jordanian security agents under the guise of offering him condolences for the death of his mother in Jordan whom he could not visit due to threats of arrest and imprisonment. The security agents reminded Hammad of their earlier offer and told him that it would be unfortunate if he similarly were unable to visit his elderly father before the latter passed away. When Hammad did not respond to the GID's offer, an officer from the PSD began calling him and on May 19, asked him to procure equipment for the Officer's personal use and offered to wire him money. Hammad believes that this was a veiled attempt to bribe and enroll him on the security forces' payroll. He told DAWN that these attempts continued, and as recently as this month, a person claiming to be working with retired GID officers visited his family in Jordan on June 9 and called him on June 11 to convince them to join a business venture. Hammad again declined these offers.
DAWN is aware of at least one other extraterritorial harassment case in the US of a US citizen who was born in Jordan and whom Jordanian authorities have harassed because of his peaceful activism in late 2022. This person has asked DAWN not to reveal his name or details of his case for fear of retaliation by the Jordanian authorities.
Moeen Al Harasees
On June 4, 2023, DAWN interviewed a third victim of the GID, Moeen Al Harasees, a Jordanian who has been living in Turkey since 2020. Al Harasees is a member of both the Executive Office of the Unified Hirak (Hirak Almowahad) opposition movement in Jordan and the Democratic Platform. Jordanian authorities detained Al Harasees in Jordan for around a month, in August and September 2020, for his peaceful activism in support of Jordan's Teachers Syndicate activities. They released him, but called him the day after his release to report back for further interrogation. According to Al Harasees, GID officers pressured him to stop his Hirak activism. He left for Turkey soon after his interrogation and has not returned since.
According to Al Harasees, GID officers started calling him in Turkey in early 2022 and continued to call him until May 2023. They offered him and his family members employment opportunities, including a job for Al Harasees at a future Jordanian Consulate in Istanbul, which Al Harasees said he turned down.
"Unleashing Jordanian intelligence to chase opposition activists in exile and in Jordan demonstrates King Abdullah's increasing autocratic tendencies," said Raed Jarrar, DAWN's Advocacy Director. "The King apparently has nothing to offer to those calling for democracy and reforms in Jordan but violence, harassment, and intimidation," Jarrar added.
Ibrahim Al Khasawneh
The GID has also been harassing and intimidating Ibrahim Al Khasawneh, a Canadian citizen in Toronto, who is from Irbid, northwestern Amman. Al Khasawneh is a member of the Democratic Platform and told DAWN on June 5, 2023, that GID officers called him in March and April 2023 and requested that he cease all activities with the Democratic Platform.
According to Al Khasawneh, a GID officer offered him bribes in the form of a cut in an upcoming project in Jordan and the position of the Honorable Consul of Jordan in Toronto, Canada, in return for his collaboration. The officer also threatened to charge him with the crime of "financing terrorism" because of his support of detained democracy activists in Jordan. Al Khasawneh also told DAWN that a friend informed him that GID officers attempted to acquire from him Al Khasawneh's personal information and private photos to blackmail Al Khasawneh.
Al Khasawneh also told DAWN that the Jordanian authorities detained an employee working for his company in Toronto, Canada, Smart Step Solutions, and intimidated him as part of an attempt to recruit him to spy on Al Khasawneh when the employee visited Jordan on March 17, 2023. Security officers detained the employee when he first arrived at the Queen Alia Airport in Amman, interrogated him, and released him ten hours later, according to Al Khasawneh as reported to him by the employee. GID officers later summoned him to their headquarters in Amman for further interrogations.
The Jordanian authorities also pressured some of Al Khasawaneh's clients to stop doing business with him and his company, according to Al Khasawneh. DAWN was able to confirm this information with one of Al Khasawaneh's clients, who asked us not to reveal his name.
The Role of the General Intelligence Directorate
The GID is a security agency that reports directly to Jordan's King, who appoints its director and officers as per Article 127 of Jordan's constitution. It was established in 1964 to "safeguard the security of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan domestically and abroad." According to a long-standing Jordanian dissident activist who explained to DAWN the GID's internal organization on June 12, 2023, the agency's Internal Affairs department or section is responsible for the "file" of Jordanian activists inside the country and abroad. He added that the two officials with direct responsibility for monitoring, interrogating, and investigating Jordanian activists include Raed Samama'ah (Abu Walid) and Assem Al Dhmour (Abu Hashem).
Information about the GID's internal organization and names and ranks of its officers is not available publicly, with the exception of information about its director, Major General Ahmad Husni, whom Jordan's King appointed on May 1, 2019. Under the doctrine of command or superior responsibility, Jordan's King Abdullah, Husni, Samama'ah, and Al Dhmour are responsible for the conduct of their subordinates, and may be criminally responsible for their abuses because of their superior-subordinate relationship with the perpetrators, because they knew or had reason to know that these abuses had been committed or were about to be committed, and because despite this knowledge, they willfully failed to prevent or punish these crimes. This doctrine forms part of customary international law and may apply to civilians and military commanders.
The Biden Administration and Congress, as well as the Swedish and Canadian governments, should demand that King Abdullah stop his extraterritorial harassment of peaceful activists, punish those responsible, and immediately release arbitrarily detained Jordanians.
"At the very minimum, the US, Swedish and Canadian governments should investigate these egregious attacks on political exiles from Jordan and sanction the Jordanian officials responsible," said Whitson. "The bottom line we all know is that ultimately these abuses happen at King Abdullah's command and it's hard to imagine a world where he did not authorize them to happen."
DAWN further calls on the U.S. Congress to cease its financial and military assistance to Jordan in light of widespread rights abuses and expanding autocratic royal control of the country that marginalizes the country's Judicial system. In 2023, DAWN documented extensive, arbitrary arrests of Jordanian citizens for participating in protests or to prevent them from doing so, as well as legal attacks against the country's only semi-independent human rights commission and closure of the teacher's union.
Jordan is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, receiving $1.45 billion annually for the fiscal years 2023-2029, pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding announced by the State Department. This includes $425 million in military assistance, at least $845 million in budget support, and $475 million in "direct cash transfer to the budget," effectively buttressing the monarchical dictatorship's acts without legal or constitutional constraints.
**The statement was updated with corrections to ensure accurate information on June 28.