Government Seeks to Imprison, Fine Citizens Who Express Dissent by Suicide
(Washington DC, May 9) – The Jordanian Senate should reject a draft law approved by the House of Representatives that criminalizes attempted suicide in public, subjecting those found guilty with prison terms of up to six months and a monetary fine of not more than 100 dinars ($141), said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
This regressive draft law is out of step with global human rights and medical establishment efforts to abolish all laws criminalizing suicide.
"Rather than take a modicum of responsibility for the desperate environment that is leading Jordanians to kill themselves in public and heed global public health calls to abolish laws that criminalize suicide, the Jordanian government has its head stuck in the sand, looking only for new ways to punish Jordanians even as they die," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director for DAWN. "The government's pathetic effort to punish suicidal Jordanians who attempt to kill themselves in public would be worthy of global mockery were it not so tragic and insulting for Jordanians," she added.
The House of Representatives approved the amendment along with other amendments to the 1960 Penal Code on April 25 in a session chaired by Parliament Speaker Abdel Karim Al-Doghmi and in the presence of the cabinet of ministers, who submitted it for a vote. The Jordanian Senate is due to vote on an amendment this week. Media reports suggested that the reason behind this decision was increasing numbers of people committing or attempting to commit suicide, specifically from Abdoun bridge, causing traffic jams and requiring police to convince them not to jump from the bridge. The suicide amendment specifically provides that "whoever attempts to commit suicide in a public place by committing any of the actions that usually lead to death shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months and a fine not exceeding 100 [Jordanian] dinars [$141], or by one of these two penalties."
The head of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, Abdel Moneim Al-Awdat, defended the amendment, claiming that public suicide was a threat to civil and social peace and that Jordanians were attempting to kill themselves in public as "blackmail, drawing attention and displaying pressure to obtain benefits, because the person who commits it knows that there is no penalty for that." Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary about why people attempt suicide and the ineffectiveness of criminal penalties as a deterrent to suicide, Al-Awdat insisted that public suicides are spreading because of the absence of punishment for attempted suicide in public.
There is no statistical information publicly available on public suicides in Jordan. There has been a sharp increase in all suicides in Jordan, however, according to the Jordanian Women's Solidarity Association, "Tadamon," which said that Jordan's Criminal Information Department showed a significant rise in total suicides in Jordan, which is the highest in 10 years, if not the highest ever.
According to an analytical study on suicide by the Economic and Social Council in Jordan, 90% of victims suffer from psychological crises. The study pointed out that some suicide attempts are not reported to the authorities "because they are considered offensive to the reputation of the person who attempted suicide, as well as to the reputation of his family, or because the person who attempted suicide was saved."
Jordan's National Center for Human Rights called on the government to reverse the law, saying in a statement: "whoever commits this act needs social, institutional, health and psychological support for the purpose of overcoming the reasons that prompted him to do this act." In a rare gesture of royal family criticism of pending legislation, Princess Ghida Talal, wife of King Abdullah's cousin and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation and Center, also accused Parliament of lacking "awareness of what our people suffer" in a tweet.
Suicide is still considered a crime in 20 countries, punishable by fines of thousands of dollars and up to three years in prison, but there is a global movement to abolish such regressive laws with growing public understanding of suicide as a mental health problem. The World Health Organization found no empirical evidence that decriminalizing suicidal behaviors leads to an increase in suicide rates and has urged countries to "review their legal provisions in relation to suicide to ensure they do not deter people from seeking help." The International Association for Suicide Prevention's position is that "the criminalization of suicide undermines national and international suicide prevention efforts and impedes access among vulnerable individuals and groups to suicide prevention and mental health services." United for Global Mental Health also has advocated for the decriminalization of suicide around the world, and in recent years suicide legislation has been successfully repealed or superseded by new legislation in some countries.
The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to health, Dr. Dainius Pūras, and the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner also have advocated that states also go beyond a mental health approach and adopt human rights-based strategies for preventing suicide. As the Special Rapporteur explained, "a human-rights approach to suicide goes beyond a focus on mental health concerns and places problems of inequality, homelessness, poverty, and discrimination at the heart of prevention strategies. In addition, governments could examine and attempt to alleviate social and familial issues, including economic deprivation, isolation, exposure to violence and abuse, and poor access to healthcare and social support."
"Rather than punishing desperate Jordanians trying to kill themselves, the Jordanian government should address the problems pushing them to suicide in the first place, like poverty, unemployment, lack of freedoms, corruption, and nepotism," said Whitson.