Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 7 August 2020
We are deeply concerned at the decision by the Jordanian authorities to close an independent trade union, suspend its board for two years, and replace its leaders with a Government-appointed committee to run the union's affairs in the interim.
These measures, ordered by the country's Attorney General on 25 July, represent a severe restriction on the right to freedom of association and undue interference in the work of the Jordan's Teachers Syndicate as an independent labour union.
The arrest of the Syndicate's 13 board members on criminal charges, after they criticised Government policies and outlined plans for a possible further strike over pay, is deeply disturbing. There are also worrying reports that security forces used unnecessary or excessive force against hundreds of demonstrators who gathered outside the Prime Minister's office on 29 July to protest against the arrest and suspension of the Syndicate's leaders.
We also have serious concerns about what appear to be severe and unjustified curbs on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. On 26 July, the Attorney General issued an order banning all news stories, posts or comments about the Syndicate's closure and the arrest of its board members in all media and social media platforms, apart from official authorised outlets.
The actions against the Teachers Syndicate - which has over 100,000 members - and its supporters, are emblematic of a growing pattern of suppression of public freedoms and the restriction of civic and democratic space by the Jordanian Government, including against labour rights activists, human rights defenders, journalists and those who have peacefully criticised the Government. This raises deep concerns as to the commitment of the Government to uphold its obligations with regard to the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression and opinion, as well as the rights of workers and trade unions.
We call on the Jordanian authorities to promptly review their decisions regarding the Syndicate, and to immediately review and decide on legal applications calling for the arrested union leaders and other detained teachers to be released. We understand all of the 13 Council members have been on hunger strike since they were arrested on 25 July. The Jordanian authorities should immediately release any individuals who are currently arbitrarily detained and, pending their release, take steps to ensure adequate medical assistance is available.
The Government and the Teachers Syndicate have been engaged in high-profile public disputes since the union was formed in 2011, primarily over the salaries of teachers in public schools. Low pay means most teachers have second or third jobs to make ends meet.
In October 2019, after a four-week nationwide teachers' strike, the Government agreed to salary increases ranging from 35 to 74 per cent salary depending on a teacher's professional level. But in April 2020, tensions resurfaced with the Syndicate after it froze all public sector pay rises until the end of the year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Jordan is clearly facing an economic crisis, partly because of the COVID-19 restrictions, we encourage the Government to engage in good faith negotiations with the Teachers Syndicate about their concerns rather than imposing measures that unlawfully restrict the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, opinion and expression.
We also encourage those protesting to do so peacefully and ensure they respect hygiene measures to mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19.
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