Update: Jordan continues Christian deportations

Here is a quick update to my last post. Compass Direct, which broke the story about the ongoing deportations of Christians in Jordan, ran a follow-up today that I personally found extremely heart-wrenching. Here is a highlight from the article:

More Deportations

While it was unclear what the government considered false in the report, the fact of deportations of Christians was further verified as authorities on February 10 expelled an Egyptian pastor with the Assemblies of God church in Madaba – one of five evangelical denominations registered with the government.

Married to a Jordanian citizen and the father of two children, Sadeq Abdel Nour was handcuffed and blindfolded and taken to the port city of Aqaba. There he was placed on a ferry to Egypt. The previous week an Egyptian pastor from a Baptist church in Zarqa was arrested, held for three days and also returned to Egypt by ship from the port city of Aqaba. The pastor, 43, is married to a Jordanian woman and the father of three children.

If these pastors were working for legally registered churches why would you deport them in such a humiliating manner? The response of Acting Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh to the initial Compass Direct article was: "The authorities have deported a number of people who entered the country under the pretext of performing voluntary work but were spotted carrying out missionary activities."

Was this really the case in the issue of Sadeq Abdel Nour? I wonder.

Frankly, I find these to be dark times for Christians in Jordan. There are obviously discrepancies between what the Jordanian government is saying and what’s actually happening on the ground. The government needs to be more transparent. Handcuffing, blindfolding and deporting a pastor with no explanation should not happen in Jordan or any country that claims to respect basic human rights. I’m angry and disappointed.

Saddened by Jordan’s latest Christian controversy

I have been extremely disturbed by the latest controversy rocking Jordan over the expulsion of what have been dubbed "Foreign Christians" and the reactions of some Jordanian churches (in Arabic). For those that have not been following the controversy, here is a brief synopsis.

  1. Compass Direct runs an article detailing the Jordanian government’s expulsion of "Foreign Christians" from Jordan.
  2. Shortly thereafter a group of Jordanian churches, which did not include all Christian denominations in Jordan, agree with the government decision and publish a statement in Al Rai newspaper (in Arabic).
  3. Jordan confirms the expulsion and makes reference to the supportive statement of the Jordanian churches.

The issue is probably too controversial for me to comment on fully and might offend some, so I will try to tread carefully. This is my humble opinion. I’m not trying to take sides. I’m merely observing and commenting,  nothing more, nothing less; so bear with me. My two main points:

Religion should be a free choice. If individuals want to tell others about their religion, they should have the right to do so. This is what happens in democratic societies. In the US, for example, preaching about Islam is not a crime. Christians convert to Islam on a regular basis, no sweat. This is not the case in Jordan, since it is not yet a democracy. I believe it is a basic human right for any individual to have the right to choose whatever spiritual path they want. Hence, I disagree with the Jordanian government’s decision to expel anyone based on religious activities. But then again, this is the case in Jordan and it may never change. People may just be satisfied with the status quo. Personally, I think the status quo contradicts any moves Jordan makes towards true democracy, but that’s just me.

I think the statement by the Jordanian churches (Arabic) inflamed the controversy and it was unnecessary. It created tension between different Christian denominations in Jordan. It was unmerited and, I hate to say it, but it bordered on "bad taste."  From what I read and heard, many of those deported were actually Arab ministers belonging to various evangelical churches in Jordan. The churches’ statement basically created a divide between the Eastern Christian denominations and evangelicals whom the statement labeled "illegitimate."

A number of those that were deported worked for the Jordan Evangelical Theological seminary. In response, the president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, Dr. Imad Shehadeh said:

The variety in denominations should not express discord and enmity, but rather, like the tree with many branches, it should express beauty as well as unity in diversity. Evangelicals are not perfect. Many individual evangelicals, like anyone else, have undoubtedly made mistakes. But let us all learn, love and cooperate together for the glory of God and the upholding of our beloved country of Jordan.

I remain disturbed by what occurred. I wish it had not happened. Frankly, it puts Jordan in a bad light internationally and has created unneeded tension amongst Christians in Jordan. Finally, if anyone wishes to comment, please keep the discussion decent. Thank you.

Here are some reactions from the Jordanian blogosphere:

Jordan’s torturous tales in The Washington Post

Jordan's table of torture courtesy WaPO Accompanying Jeff to the department of motor vehicles this morning, I brought along The Washington Post to read while he took care of business. On the front page I found a lengthy story about Jordan. No, this was not a story about the two Jordanian entries for the Sundance Film Festival — a first in the history of the Kingdom. Rather, it was a report of something else: torture.

What was new this time was a photo illustrated table listing the inmates allegedly held and tortured in Jordan alongside the methods of torture used upon them. According to the article, torture in Jordan comes in two flavors: Falaqa and Farruj

Former prisoners have reported that their captors were expert in two practices in particular: falaqa, or beating suspects on the soles of their feet with a truncheon and then, often, forcing them to walk barefoot and bloodied across a salt-covered floor; and farruj, or the “grilled chicken,” in which prisoners are handcuffed behind their legs, hung upside down by a rod placed behind their knees, and beaten.

Of course the report disturbed me for obvious reasons. But I’m also upset at seeing my country’s name linked yet again to this inhumane practice. Living in the DC metro area, where everyone is politically charged, I get a comment or two about Jordan being linked to torture when I reveal my nationality. If the information were true, then really Jordan should put an end to it. It is inhumane and uncivilized. Just end it!

I also got annoyed because the Post seems hung up on the issue when discussing Jordan. How many times do you have to report on this, really! Why not replace the front page story with something positive for a change. Here is a headline for you: Two Jordanian entries at Sundance Film Festival boost Kingdom’s cinematic ambitions.

Okay, this post is giving me a headache so I’m going to stop whistling in the dark here and find something better to do. I of all people should know that journalists revel in bad news and rarely file reports that leave you loving life and wanting more. Uff!

Update: Ammon News is reporting (Arabic) that Jordan has introduced a new law into the Penal Code that penalizes anyone that tortures any citizen to get information. The penalty is imprisonment for a period of between six months to three years. Here is the news in Arabic:

بشكل هادىء ودون ضجيج ادخلت الحكومة الراحلة تعديلا مهما وكبيرا على
قانون العقوبات الاردني يمثل انتصارا كبيرا لكل المدافعين عن حقوق الانسان والحريات العامة .. ويتمثل هذا التطور القانوني في تعديل المادة 208 من قانون العقوبات بما يكفل انزال عقوبات مشددة بحق اي موظف عام يمارس التعذيب ضد اي مواطن بهدف الحصول على اعترافات منه وذلك انه كان يكتفى بتجاهل هذه الاعترافات اذا تبين انها اخذت تحت التعذيب ..

وبحسب النص المنشور في الجريدة الرسمية بعددها 6734 جاء فيها انه وبناء على قرار مجلس الوزراء بتاريخ 9-10 -2007 فقد تقرر ادخال تعديلات على قانون العقوبات ليصدر بصفة قانون مؤقت يحمل الرقم 49 لسنة 2007 ليقرأ مع القانون 16 لسنة 1960 .

وجاء في نص القانون الجديد من سام شخصا اي نوع من انواع التعذيب التي لا يجيزها القانون بقصد الحصول على اقرار بجريمة او على معلومات بشأنها عوقب بالحبس من ستة اشهر الى ثلاث سنوات

That’s really good news. Hopefully this inhumane practice will come to an end soon, not only in my home country, but all over.

Father gets reduced sentence for murdering daughter

I’m not really sure why I can’t understand the logic behind the court sentencing mentioned in the article below. Perhaps it is because it is the end of the day and I’m too tired to fully grasp what I read in the Monday edition of The Jordan Times. Can anyone shed some light? Does the article below really state that a man that kills his daughter can get a reduced sentence because of a claim that his daughter "left home without his permission and cursed him"?

The Criminal Court has sentenced a 41-year-old man to seven-and-a-half years in prison after convicting him of murdering his daughter following a domestic argument in November 2006. The tribunal first handed Mohammad A. a 15-year prison term after convicting him of bludgeoning his daughter to death with a club at their family’s home on November 23. But the court immediately reduced the sentence to half "to help the defendant in life and because the victim left home without his permission and cursed him." Source: [The Jordan Times]

If this really is what I think it is then I’m simply speechless. I really have had it with the blatant dehumanization going on in the society in which I grew up. At this moment of my life, I truly believe that Jordan needs to set the investment in malls and towers aside, and instead invest in restructuring its judicial system.

Mohammad Asha is charged

This is a quick update to my previous post about Mohammad Asha. According to the Associated Press:

A Jordanian doctor has been charged in connection with foiled car bomb plots in London and Glasgow, police said Thursday. Dr. Mohammed Jamil Asha, 26, was charged with conspiracy to cause explosions, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said on condition of anonymity, in line with department policy.
Source: [AP]

As a Jordanian, all I can say is that I’m really disappointed to see a fellow citizen involved in such a heinous act. What a waste of life for this young doctor.

Reactions to alleged involvement of Jordanian doctor in UK plot

Mohammad Asha before The Jordanian blogosphere is filled with reactions to the alleged involvement of Jordanian doctor Mohammad Asha in the UK terror plot. Blogger and journalist Batir Wardam is hoping that Asha is innocent, saying:

I am deeply in hope that Dr. Mohammad Asha (27) who is a Jordanian will turn out to be innocent from the suspicions of an alleged role in the planning of terror attacks in London and [Glasgow]. Not only because he is Jordanian but I feel very alarmed that the profile of Dr Asha is very far away from the typical terrorist, in fact he can be a replica of thousands of Arabs and Muslims trying to seek a career of excellence in Europe.

The story of Asha is all over the news here in the US. The Today program is showing a picture of him with Queen Noor. Nothing has been confirmed so far and he may turn out to be innocent as his family claims. But I think harm has already been done. Jordan’s name is now linked to this terror plot. What a shame! I do disagree with Batir on the issue of Asha’s profile. I’m of the opinion that the current "profile of a terrorist" is not that of the disenchanted and the unemployed. On the contrary, many of those involved in terrorism are highly educated. Here is an excerpt from today’s Washington Post:

Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy leader of the network, is an Egyptian-trained physician. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking plot, earned a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina A&T University. The lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, studied architecture. Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was educated as a civil engineer.

Meanwhile, blogger Firas is not surprised by the possible radicalization of Asha. Firas showed a more recent picture than above of Asha with him fully-bearded, something that could be interpreted by some as a shift towards extremism. He says:

Mohammad Asha afterIf he is truly involved, there might be some explanation, and I’ve personally witnessed this: What happens is that Arab students go to study abroad in countries where political and religious freedoms are granted for all, say countries like: US,UK,Canada and Australia. Now these students get to know other Muslim students usually Pakistanis who got some extremists among them, and that’s when they are fed with all this crap. And this is out of personal experience (a close friend would stop talking to you, because you are a Christian,the guy was transformed in 5 months). As in Pakistan extremist groups and parties are deeply rooted in that country, and for an Arab student who finds him/herself in an alien culture and lately a hostile culture to Islam (think of post 9/11,the Danish cartoons,the Pope’s lecture,etc) these guys would have some affect.

Regardless of whether Asha is innocent or not, it is a shame to see Jordan’s name dragged into this. As if the effect of Zaraqwi on Jordan’s reputation was not enough!

UPDATE: The International Herald Tribune is running a story that highlights comments from Asha’s colleagues who are saying that he was "absorbed in his studies and had no ties to terrorism." The story quotes a Jordanian government source saying that British authorities described Asha as a "possible subject" not charged with any crime. The same source called connections to the physician "very sketchy."

Azmi Mahafzah, Mohammed Asha’s instructor at the University of Jordan medical school, said he knew Mohammed Asha during his studies and training from 1998 to 2004 and did not have the impression that he was religious. "He interacted with others, both boys and girls. He has no prejudices. He is not a fanatic type of person," he said. "I wouldn’t believe that he would risk a very, very bright future in medicine for going into such things. He’s very smart," Mahafzah said. He said Mohammed Asha graduated with top honors from his medical class.

Another colleague of Asha’s in Amman, Aseel al-Omari, described herself as a "close friend" of the Jordanian doctor. She said she knew him for the past decade since they attended a school for gifted students. The school, founded 14 years ago by Jordan’s Queen Noor to promote religious tolerance, is mixed — a rarity in this conservative Muslim society, which often separates the sexes.