Laws and regulations effectively punish convicted persons twice.
The government and the judiciary have expanded the interpretation of misdemeanors against honor and public ethics.
By Rawan Nakleh and Musab Al-Shawabkeh
In 2014, Hamza Yahya, one year out of Al-Balqa Applied University, began teaching at the Military Education School as a civilian. While accepted by the school, he was still waiting for an official appointment from the Ministry of Education after passing a required exam.
On one Ramadan day, as the sun was setting on Sakib, Yahya’s hometown, a brawl broke out that left half of the 15 people involved injured, including Yahya. He was charged with assault with a sharp object after another person emerged with a cut face.
Yahya denied the charge, saying, “By the time I got to where the fight was, it was already over.”
However, In July 2015, the court sentenced Yahya to three years at hard labor, a sentence reduced to a year in jail and payment of court fees. The court that it was showing mercy because Yahya was young and deserved another chance “to lead a free honorable life, walk a proper path, and reintegrate into society.”
A week after he was released he reported to the Education Ministry and received a new letter of appointment as a teacher with the Jerash Board of Education. The clerk there provides him with a list of the documents required to complete his employment file and it included a “Certificate of Non-Conviction”.
A court employee mocked him when he tried to get that document. “Released from prison yesterday, and today you want a non-conviction certificate?” He suggested coming back in 2022.
Without the certificate, the Ministry marked him down as rejecting the appointment. He sought work at private schools in Jerash, but they also wanted a Certificate of Non-Conviction. So did a food processing factory, hotels, and supermarkets where he went job-hunting.
“I was in a small jail and came out to a big one,” he said. “What is the difference? I’m not free.”
Yahya was one of 10 individuals who talked with investigative reporters about bitter experiences trying to resume their lives after bad luck led them into police stations, courts, and prison. They show that laws and regulations are set in place that deny even those convicted of just misdemeanors the chance to ever again exercise their professional, political and economic lives. Their criminal records remain open for three to six years after their sentences are finished.
This investigation detected 122 legislative provisions stipulating that a person seeking employment in the government or private sector should not have been convicted of any felony or misdemeanor against honor and public ethics and that this must be confirmed by presentation of a Certificate of Non-Conviction.
The requirement applies to members of associations, trade unions and political parties, candidates for general elections, scholarships, and in other circumstances.
In addition, 60 other provisions require proof of non-conviction for anyone founding a nursery, a Hajj and real estate offices, a cultural center, labor recruitment offices, surveying office, senior centers, student services, as well as founders of tourism and hotel facilities, restaurants, and rest stops, and others.
According to the 2016 report for human rights, between the beginning of 2013 and the end of 2016, more than 66,000 persons received punitive judgments and so are affected by this arsenal of legislation.
Double this number of people are in jeopardy of facing the same fate. According to a report by the Jordanian Judicial Council, about 134,000 defendants were involved in punitive cases in 2016 alone.
This investigation shows that these vague laws opened a door for governments to alienate their political rivals by interpreting the law at their whim.
Defending these articles, the head of the Legislation and Opinion Bureau at the Prime Ministry, Naufan Al-Ajarmeh,said that punishments after the actual sentence handed out for crimes serve as a deterrent against committing any crime in the future. He said, “in my assessment that it is in line with the International Covenants on Human Rights.”
Prosecutor Abdul Munim AL-Awdat , former head of the Judicial Council’s legal committee, attributes the existence of these articles as a description for those seeking to represent the community or hold public office, stressing that “This is the community’s right.”
But legal rights activist attorney Halla Ahid said in disagreement, “I view it as a harsh form of judgment, and at the same time it compounds the punishment, a violation of any offender’s basic human rights.”
The philosophy of punishment is to bring justice to the victims, and not to extend to all aspects of the offender’s life, thereby preventing him form working and having a normal life, Ahid explained. “This punishment is a form of psychological execution for anyone”.
Government spokesperson Jumana Gnaemat,said in a written statement that the laws about convicted criminals aim to conserve the facade of political, civil, and public offices that are based on integrity and righteousness. She said this engenders trust and acceptance by the public and by people operating in these fields. She also emphasised that the objective of punitive actions against convicted felons serves is deterrence.
Al Gneamat insists that the many laws reported about here “…do not stand in the way of felons who wish to repent and return to the righteous path.” She added, “Good conduct is essential for party, trade union, and political work. Opening the doors all the way would allow for the inclusion of undesirable persons in public life or doing business of great importance and gravity.”
In April 2013, a demonstration demanding political and economic reform was organized that picked up on protest begun in late 2010. A young man Alaa Al-Subaihat (Al-Malkawi) was photographed hoisted on the shoulders of fellow protesters chanting: “You who brought in the thugs, where are the safety and security?” In the background a banner read, “Jordanians blood is a red line.”
Alaa, an employee of the Ministry of Social Development, was arrested on his way to another demonstration in Zarqa. It was his first arrest due to his activism.
He was held for 18 days at the Al-Hashmiya prison, then transferred to the state security court on charges of verbal assault against the Jordanian king and queen.
The Military Public Prosecutor’s Office charged this Alaa, a father of five, with sedition, which is punishable by three to 15 years of hard labor.
The statement of charges alleged that, “In light of the protests in other Arabic countries, Alaa developed the urge the inflame the Jordanian masses in opposition against the political regime in the kingdom.” It said Alaa had declared himself a member of these movements to and started organizing marches. He chanted slogans insulting the king and calling for the end of the regime.
As hometown citizen with no power or political clout, and with no affiliation to any political party or union, Alaa was stunned by the charges.
The court convicted him of verbal assault and sentenced him to spend six months in prison and pay legal and court fees.
When he got out of prison, the Minister of Social Development at the time Kawla Al-Armoti fired him, basing the decision to do so on civil service regulations, that require the dismissal of an employee convicted and imprisoned for six months or longer.
Alaa appealed to the Administrative Court and the Supreme Court, but the allowable time to appeal had lapsed, according to the court’s ruling.
Today an unemployed Alaa faces a series of intertwining cases. “I manage to get out of one case and before catching my breath, I’m charged with another… Commitments are piling up, living costs, financial commitments to the bank, and many other responsibilities… School and transportation fees for my children …cost 200 dinars a month”.
Attorney and legal scholar Hashim Nassar defined in his book Crimes Against Honor and Their Impact on Public Service that “termination of employment is a group punishment affecting the entire family.” He called it “eternal punishment” and said loss of employment and income results in hometown consequences than many crimes call for.
The head of the Legislation and Opinion Bureau at the prime ministry does not consider verbal assault a crime against honor and “does not warrant termination of employment.” Here Ajarmeh admits here have been some erroneous rulings “ in a government of institutions authorities oversee other authorities … and the judiciary authorities have the final say.”
The Court of Cassation and Supreme Court have ruled similarly. However, the Judicial Council in March 2018 categorized verbal assault against the king as a crime of honor and public ethics, in contradiction with interpretations by previous courts.
Former prosecutor attorney Mahmood al-Karabsheh rejects the decisions of termination and banishment from employment, and said that people who have already been convicted and served their sentences should not suffer further punishment. “He received a punishment fitting the severity of the crime.”
Alaa’s story is similar to what happened with Yaser Al-Sabayleh, a teacher with the Tafilah Governorate department of education. In 2010, in the south of Jordan, teachers were demanding a teacher’s union. Al-Sabayleh and his colleague Saaid Al-Awran were among the activists in that movement, which coincided with increased public demonstrations and youth activism in Jordan. He joined them in calling for political reform “elected government, reform election laws.”
In 2012 Al-Sabayleh found himself in prison on charges of verbal assault against the king, and illegal assembly. The State Security Court convicted him and he spent time in Al- Jweida Prison (south of Amman) and Al-Hashmiya Prison (Zarqa) before paying a fine to get out of part of his three-month sentence.
To this day Al-Sabayleh denies the charges against him. “It was not verbal assault on the king. It was demanding constitutional reforms instilling justice and equality among community members.
Months after his punishment, the Ministry of Education reprimanded him by deducting a week’s wages from his monthly salary for a year. The ministry based this decision on civil service regulations.
Al-Sabayleh considers this second punishment war against this and his family’s livelihood; “This is a pivotal point in supressing civil liberty and the call for political reform.”
Cutting Al-Sabayleh’s pay had social and economic ramifications for him. “My children’s school fees were overdue. I had to transfer my son from a private school to a public one,” he said. On top of that, the family cancelled all non-essential expenses including transportation, and social activities with the family. “You need to let go of everything to make your salary fit your new circumstances,” he said.
Teacher Saaid Al-Al-Awran was Al-Sabayleh’s fellow activist and his cellmate, serving time for multiple protest-related crimes, including illegal assembly and verbal assault on the king.
At the end of the month AL-Awran found that his salary has not been transferred to his account. He contacted the education department in Tafilah and was told: “Your employment has been terminated due to your conviction.”
As news of his firing spread, fellow teachers gathered at the Tafilah Teachers’ Club and decided to boycott the district’s upcoming secondary school final examinations. Their stand forced the Ministry of Education to overturn the termination order in an official letter.
Teacher Samer Al-Mazid went through a similar ordeal, after taking part in 2011 demonstrations. He received a sentence of three months that was later reduced to a fine. But after he had been convicted by the state security of verbal assault against the king, he too was fired.
Al-Mazid appealed to the administrative court, which upheld the Ministry’s decision and considered Al-Mazid’s actions to beyond the purview of his claim of freedom of expression and thought, “an assault on professional and societal ethics.”
However, the high administrative court considers verbal assault not a crime against honor and public ethics, but a crime of verbal defamation and demoralization, which does not warrant termination of employment. The court overturned his dismissal.
Despite that Al-Mazid was unable to obtain a Certificate of Non-Conviction — which prevented his accepting a teaching offer in Sudi Arabia which would have paid five times his salary in Jordan. “They told me verbatim ‘Let your buddies give you a good conduct certificate,” he quoted security officers.
In 2006, when a leading member of the Islamic Brotherhood party Ali Abu Al-Sukar was sitting in Parliament, parliament, Al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in an American air raid in Mesopotamia. Abu Al-Sukar offered condolences to his family and clansmen, accompanied by two other Islamic Brotherhood party members and now former parliament members Muhammed Abu Faris and Jaffar AL-Horani.
During the visit Abu Faris and Abu Al-Sukar gave speeches praising Zarqawi and depicting him as ”a martyr and freedom fighter.” As per the ruling of the state security court and the arguments of the military general prosecutor they were convicted of “undermining national unity and to inciting sectarian and racial strife and promoting conflict between the different elements of the nation.” The court sentenced Abu Al-Sukar to serve a year and a half in prison and the pay a fine of 200 Jordanian dinars. However, the court of cassation reduced the sentence to 13 months and a fine of 100 dinars.
As soon as that verdict was announced, then Prime Minister Marouf Al-Bakhit addressed the implications of it: “Statements made by parliamentarians Abu Al-Sukar and Abu Faris, generally irked and angered the Jordanian public, and especially family members of the victims of the Amman bombing incident in Autumn of 2005, and many have filed complaints with police stations against the aforementioned,” according to the parliamentary session log.
After Al-Bakhit concluded his address, the head of the Islamic Movement bloc at the parliament then Azzam Al-Huneidi called for a point of order stating: “We believe that the case against these two members was political form the start, and has put the nation in jeopardy of a real crisis.”
In August 2006, the government asked the High Constitutional Councilto clarify: should the membership of a parliament member be annulledif he has been sentenced to one year in prison upon conviction of a non-political crime for which he was not pardoned, or does this require a ruling from the High Council?
The high court decided unanimously that wiping out parliamentary membership due to ineligibility by law, “Does not require a further ruling by the council.”
Though they were pardoned by King Abdulla II at the end of September 2006, Abu Al-Sukar and Abu Faris still lost their membership in parliament.
Some 10 years later Abu Al-Sukar ran again for Parliament, but objections were filed against the validity of abu al-Sukar’s nomination and the appeal court cancelled his nomination.
The court based its decision on 2016 elections regulations that stipulated: “Nominees should not have been convicted to more than one year in prison after being convicted of a non-political crime for which he was not pardoned.” The court concluded that his reputation hometown not been restored.
Restitution of reputation is defined in the Jordanian penal code as the cancellation of all charges and of any other implications, including the denial of rights.
Between 2011 and 2016, 2,106 cases of reputation restitution have been filed. Of those, the courts have accepted 1,136 and denied 970, according to the Ministry of Justice.
Abu Al-Sukar believes he has been punished three times, once by not considering the charges against him as political, second by handing him a prison sentence, and third by denying him the right to run for re-election even after 10 years. He has committed no new crimes, he said, and still his reputation is not restored.
The law allows for restoration after just five years following the end of jail time with no additional convictions.
Abu Al-Sukar confirmed that he received a Certificate of Non-Conviction before he entered his nomination. “The decision to overturn my nomination, I believe, is political and not legal,” he said.
In contrast, less than a year before his nomination to parliament, he was nominated for and won election by 17,000 votes to become president of the Zarqa Municipal Board.
Head of the Independent Elections Board Kalid Al-Kalaldeh offers an explanation for that seeming contradiction. A condition of nomination to the parliamentary election is to not have been sentenced to more than a year according to the law and constitution, and Abu Al-Sukar sentence was for longer. “As such his nomination was rejected based on the ruling against him by the Amman court of appeals.”
Commenting on Abu Al-Sukar, the head of the Legislation and Opinion Bureau at the Prime Ministry Naufan Al-Ajarmeh, said, similarly, parliamentary election laws deal with the duration of the sentence rather than the type of crime. “In principle, “ he added, “the state’s political rivals should not have criminal tendencies.”
Attorney and civil rights activist Nour Al-Emam demands a clear definition of the nature of the action denying a person the right to nomination “It’s unreasonable to generally consider it as if it was set in stone.”
Parliamentarian Mustafa Yaghi defends barring the parliamentary nomination of any person who has been sentenced to more than a year, saying: “Today we want the best of the best. We should not bring in someone with a blemished record.”
Former parliamentarian Mahmoud Al-Kharabshah criticized the absence of an explicit and firm definition of crimes and misdemeanor against honor and public ethics, and demands it no longer be left to the interpretation of individual authorities.
“What may be considered a breach of honor and public ethics for one group of people might not be the same with another group,” he said. And considers the text to be broad and flexible and to be dealt with cautiously until was can get an understanding of who is breaking the law by committing crimes and misdemeanors against honor and public ethics.
The head of the Legislation and Opinion Bureau at the Prime Ministry Naufan Al-Ajarmeh admits there is no clear legal definition now, but he gave examples such as theft, embezzlement, abuse of trust, and fraud. “They are very difficult to restrict,” he said.
The interpretation of these texts by judges has not been free of controversy. The Administrative Court has said that legislators “did not put in a clear definition of the crimes against honor and public ethics, intentionally thereby leaving the interpretation of what is considered a crime against honor and public ethics up to the observation ad estimation of the judiciary.”
In 1993, in contrast, the High Court of Justice defined crimes against honor and public ethics as crimes committed “due to lose morals, a deviation in personality, lust, whim of fancy, or bad conduct,” exposing those who commit them to scorn and disdain.
Non-Conviction Certificates, showing the bearer has not committed a crime against honor and public ethics, has become “a basic requirement for those seeking employment in the public or private sector, and is also required when obtaining a diving licence, obtaining a travel visa, or seeking higher education”, according to the Ministry of Justice website.
More than 1.9 million certificates were issued between the start of 2011 and October 2017. During that time 6,464 requests for certificates were rejected because of criminal records, according to the Ministry of Justice.
Infographic the progress in the number of non-conviction certificate
Despite 60 texts in rules and regulations requiring a certificate to practice a vocation or start a small business, no laws or regulations explain how they should be issued or regulated. So, the court of Cassation does not consider it an official document”.
It explained that anyone no certificate could go to anyone who had committed any of 57 listed misdemeanors, that included illegal assembly resulting in the destruction of public property, membership in an unlawful party, verbal assault against the king, destruction and degradation of the flag or national crest, destruction of official documents, broadcasting false statements meant to undermine public confidence, broadcasting false news outside the kingdom, sedition, releasing state secrets, and others..
In mid-March 2018 the judicial council issued a guide for court presidents on issuing None-Conviction certificates.
He said, “The judicial authority should not have a role in categorizing what is and what is not a crime against honor, which will lead to a punishment not set by the legislator …..There is no punishment or crime without a legislative text.”
“We are facing a grave dilemma,” said attorney Hisham Nassar. “how can we punish a person based on a judicial guide and opinion rather than a legal legislative text?”
Executive Director of the Association of Subsequent Care for Prisoners Abdulla Al-Naser said former prisoners cannot get certificates and are left unable to take advantage of constitutional and legal rights to seek employment. They are forced back into crime to survive.
“How can we ask a prisoner to just sit at home and reintegrate into the society, and at the same time push them into a corner forcing him to return to criminal behavior.”