2 نيسان، 2005
وهذه قصة محاضرة واعتقال على حتر كما جاءت من رويترز في حينه
00:00 17Mar2005 FEATURE-Jordan cracks down on unions as dissent growsJordan's intelligence services came looking for Ali Hattar two days after he gave a speech calling for a boycott of the United States.
"I knew my words would make them angry and that they would arrest me," said Hattar, a leading union activist who faces a two-year prison term for "slandering" the Jordanian government.
Jordan, a close U.S. ally, is hardening its stance against the country's increasingly militant unions, long-time bastions of dissent and opposition to the kingdom's pro-Western policies and its diplomatic ties to Israel.
"The government wants to silence us, but I am not afraid of speaking," said Hattar, a blunt-speaking 58-year-old engineer.
Hattar is being charged under a vague defamation law that makes it a crime to "insult" the government, legislation that has been used to suppress dissent at union halls and mosques.
As unions have stepped up their rhetoric following the war in neighbouring Iraq and the uprising in the Occupied Territories, the government is pushing a new law in parliament that would ban unions from political activity.
International human rights groups say the new law, submitted by the cabinet to the legislature this month, violates free speech and challenges King Abdullah's promises of leading democratic change in the Middle East.
Hattar's case is also a reminder of the difficulties that Jordan -- a conservative and tribal-based monarchy in a troubled region -- faces in delivering promises of political and economic reform without unleashing instability.
"The government's argument is that it wants evolution, not revolution and that reform should be gradual," said a former senior Jordanian official who asked not to be named.
"But the fact is that today we are seeing more limits on political activity than there were 10 or 15 years ago."
A member of Jordan's professional association of engineers, Hattar belongs to its "anti-normalisation committee," a banned lobby group vociferously opposed to the country's 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
The treaty is seen as vital to Jordan's national security.
Hattar, who has been arrested several times for his opposition to the treaty, gave a speech called "Why Boycott America" at the union's headquarters in December.
The speech, in which he called for a boycott of U.S. goods and companies, was a criticism of U.S. foreign policy in which he also made a reference to Jordan.
Hattar was summoned by the authorities and when he showed up was arrested overnight. His case is adjourned until March 21.
POLICIES UNPOPULAR AT HOME
Jordan's backing of Washington's policies in Iraq and Israel is deeply unpopular in the kingdom, where many of the 5.5 million residents are of Palestinian descent.
This has lead to heightened militancy and rhetoric by professional associations, traditionally dominated by Islamists and Arab nationalists. In a country where political parties are fragmented and packed with loyal tribal elements, unions have acted as a well-funded and organised political opposition.
The new law, which the government says is needed to regulate union activities and finances, would require unions to obtain government approval of all meetings and rallies.
It would also change the way unions elect their leaders and councils, favouring rural areas over cities like Amman, where Islamists and other opposition groups have power bases.
Members who violate the law could be expelled from the associations and lose their professional licences.
In January, Interior Minister Samir Habashneh said the government would no longer "tolerate associations that have transformed themselves into platforms for ideologies considered harmful to the state and its relations with other countries."
Riot police have surrounded the union's headquarters in Amman several times this year to prevent rallies and sit-ins.
Fadi al-Qadi, regional advocate for Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch, said Jordan is using the fight against Islamic militancy to justify limits on free speech.
"The professional associations' law is an example of intolerance towards other political voices," said al-Qadi.
"The Jordanian government doesn't want a true debate and that is the most destructive thing when it comes to building democracy because you are encouraging extremists."
Hattar, who belongs to Jordan's tiny Christian community, became a bit of an embarrassment for Jordan after U.S. President George W. Bush in January was caught off guard when asked at a news conference about the arrest.
Bush said he was unaware of the case but urged King Abdullah "to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Jordan."
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division, said Hattar's case is a credibility test for Bush's Middle East policy.
"Is the United States going to be as critical of Jordan as it has been with Iran or Syria when they detain an activist?
"Jordan always gets the free pass. Nobody focuses on how the state security forces control Jordan society."
Aides to King Abdullah, a modern young monarch, say he is overhauling Jordan's once graft-ridden and state-controlled economy, but observers say he has moved slower on promises of democratic reform, including changes to the electoral law and political parties.
"There is apprehension among the forces of conservatism that too liberal reforms can be too fast," a diplomat said.