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11 Aug 2020

Human rights groups condemn Jordan’s government over cracking down on Teachers’ Union & arresting its members

Human Rights Watch (HRW), the UN Office in Geneva and other regional and international organizations and unions have condemned the closure of the Teachers’ Union offices last month by the Jordanian government and the arrest of its members.  

On July 25, the Jordanian security forces raided Teachers Union offices following an order from Amman’s Attorney General Hassan Abdallat that they be closed for two years. The Union’s acting head and all board members have been arrested.

The Attorney General also issued a comprehensive gag order on investigations into the case, prohibiting all publications and comments in all media outlets including social media. The closure comes after the Teachers Union, who represents 100,000 members, organized a peaceful demonstration accusing the government of failing to honour a salary deal reached last year

The Attorney General stated that his decision was based on pending criminal charges against the board, including financial violations and corruption. However, there is no legal basis in Jordanian law justifying the closure. The board can only be dissolved by a vote of two-third of its central committee’s members or by a judicial order.

The right to freedom of association and collective bargaining is one of the fundamental labour standards established by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Jordan as a member state to ILO, has an obligation arising from its membership (even if it has not ratified the convention(s) in question) to respect, promote and realize, in good faith the ILO standards, including the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. In this sense, the Jordanian authorities should not impose any restriction that impedes the exercise of this right. Thus, the closure of the Teachers Union may amount to a breach to the right to freedom of association.

The UN Office in Geneva denounced the decision and considers it a restriction on the union right to freedom of opinion and expression. Similarly, the international Trade Union Confederation sent a letter to His Majesty King Abdullah denouncing the action against the union. 

A number of organizations belonging to the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggle sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice regarding the attack. The letter condemns the illegal crackdown on the union and calling upon the government to release all detained members of the union and end the crackdown on the freedom of protest and expression.

On August 10, Education International (EI) which is a global union federation of 384 associations and unions in 178 countries and territories, representing some 32.5 million educators and support professionals, launched a campaign in partnership with labour start to urge the Jordanian authorities to immediately release the Teachers Union leaders and revoke the unlawful suspension of Union.

On 20 August 2020, the business and Human Rights Resource Centre received a situation report from a local organization in Jordan. The report provides a short background on teachers' union which was established in 2011 and the reason behind the government attack. The report also gives an update on the situation and feature the reaction of Jordan people and civil society.

According to the report, more than 280 teachers are still detained by the Jordanian authorities, including the union board members and other active teachers in the union. The detained teachers begun a hunger strike 25 days ago and five of them, at least, have sustained health problem during this period.

The report features the popular reactions to the government's decision to close the union, whereby a number of demonstrations were organized and a Hashtag was launched; #with_the union. Also, the report highlights reactions from international organizations to the clampdown, such as Human Rights Watch and the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human.

The full report is available in Arabic below. Given the high risk in this situation, we refrain from publishing the name of the organization.

On Sunday 23 August, a Jordanian judge ordered the release of the teachers union's 13 elected board members who were arrested on 25 July. The judge also freed a number of teachers who were arrested during the demonstrations that took place before and after the arrest of the union leaders.

On August 31, teachers and members of Irbid Teachers Syndicate were released. Irbid governor said that the release was on the condition of signing a pledge that teachers will be collectively liable to pay an amount of JD 250,000 if they protest again.

On December 31, the Magistrate Criminal Court in Amman issued a controversial decision that authorised the dissolution of the Jordan Teachers’ Union. The court also sentenced the Union's board members to one year in prison. The decision is not final and is subject to appeal, yet it has the characteristic of expediting the implementation. Consequently, 5 members of the unions including its vice president were immediately arrested. they were later released on bail.

On 3 January 2021, hundreds of teachers held a sit-in in front of the Parliament in Amman demanding the annulment of the court decision and to stop forcing teachers into early retirement.

On 14 February 2021, a number of governorates in Jordan witnessed protests by teachers expressing their solidarity with their union and demanding the government to stop targeting teachers and their union. They also called on the government to annul all sanctions imposed on Teachers' Union.

on 19 February 2021, the American Federation of Teachers issued a letter denouncing the Magistrate Criminal Court's decision and announced its support to the Teachers' Union.

This page will feature the latest coverage of the clampdown on the Teachers Union and reactions from civil society and government.

"Euro-Med Monitor renews its condemnation of the Jordanian government’s arbitrary measures against the Teachers’ Union for defending the rights of teachers".
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor
"Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) denounces in the strongest terms all the arbitrary measures taken by the Jordanian authorities against the JTS, including the use of the judiciary to dissolve it and target its leaders, and declares its full solidarity with the syndicate".
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights
"Education International is calling on workers and unionists to urge the Jordanian authorities to immediately stop harassing the leaders of the Jordanian Teachers Association (JTA) and threatening its very existence".
Education International
“Shuttering one of the Jordan’s few independent labor unions following a protracted dispute with the government and on dubious legal grounds raises serious concerns about the government’s respect for the rule of law”.
Michael Page, the HRW Middle East Deputy Director; Jordan: Teachers’ Syndicate Closed; Leaders Arrested
“The actions of the Jordanian government against the Teachers Syndicate are a serious violation of the rights to freedom of association and expression." “Civil society groups and labour unions should be able to organise and express criticism of government actions.”
UN experts including the Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression and members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, OHCHR
“Jordan’s cynical exploitation of arbitrary measures such as gag orders and arrests to silence journalists is only the latest in a series of restrictions on press freedoms in the country.”
Michael Page, the HRW Middle East Deputy Director; Jordan: Escalating Repression of Journalists
"Education International will maintain pressure on the Jordanian authorities as there are still many other teachers, journalists, and activists being held in detention. The global union federation will also continue to protest against the government’s ongoing decision to close the union offices for two years and prohibit JTA board members to represent teachers."
Education International
“The Jordanian government, despite promises to the contrary, is exploiting the state of emergency to crack down on public outrage over the arbitrary government closure of the Teachers’ Syndicate.” “Jordan should not use the pandemic as a pretext to repress expressions of public concern over these arbitrary measures.”
Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, Jordan: Arrests, Forced Dispersal at Teacher Protests