Words by: Shefa’a Qudah
Translation by: Hiba Moustafa
Featured Image: The arrival of Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner for Palestine, to Al-Salt in 1920.
Several headlines hit Jordanian news sites: “A Suspicious Party in Amman,” “Eight People Arrested after Raiding a Suspicious Party,” “A Security Failure in a Private Party in Amman.” On November 5, 2022, I captured over 29 new sites that quoted Amman governor Yasser Adwan’s account, which stated that police raided a suspicious party in Amman on Friday night (November 4), considering it indecent. Eight people were arrested and referred to the relevant authorities. None of these articles said anything about the charges.
As a journalist, curiosity got the better of me. I contacted the Ministry of Interior to ask them: What does the word “suspicious” mean in their statement? What warranted the “raid” in the first place? Was there anything that affected national security or violated State sovereignty? Why were only eight of the 120 people present at the party arrested? Why did the governor arrest them without charge?
The Ministry of Interior responded to my phone call and I spoke with the spokesperson for 18 minutes, but he told me this was “off record.” When I asked for an official statement, he told me to call him back the following day and to call the governor who issued the arrest warrant. I called the governor, but he sounded annoyed when I asked about the party and told me that I should refer to the spokesperson. I called the spokesman again, as we agreed, but was sent an auto-reply message that said, “Can I call you later?” I called him back but he did not return my call, so I called him again the following day. He again didn’t answer my call, so I sent him a message saying that I needed the Ministry’s permit and asked whether it was possible to send him my questions via WhatsApp. Again, he did not reply.
This level of bureaucracy and evasion made me even more curious: Why were the Ministry and the governor dealing with this “suspicious” party with such caution?
Why did the governor change his statement?
I checked all the 29 news sites – some affiliated with newspapers and satellite channels – hoping to find answers, but the content was similar, quoting either the governor or the Public Security spokesperson. Altheqa News (الثقة نيوز) cited an anonymous source who said the party was for “faggots” who were arrested, that security forces seized videos found on the premises and that the raid did not violate public morality.
At about 3:27 pm on Saturday, November 5, news began circulating that the governor called the party “indecent,” inviting suspicion. An hour later, Alwakeel News (الوكيل الإخباري) quoted the governor directly, saying that the party didn’t involve “public indecency, but a brawl,” which warranted the police raid. The governor’s contradictory statements arouse a few questions.
Why did the governor change his statement, and how can such a radical shift happen in just an hour? Skeptical of the source, I called some of my colleagues who worked for news sites that posted this information to inquire further. They said that they received it from the Public Security spokesperson, who shared it with media outlets via WhatsApp. This wasn’t surprising; I have read many of the statements shared by Public Security and I can distinguish them. However, I didn’t understand why it was important to publicize such a vague, unclear statement. I asked some of them to send me a screenshot of the statement, but they refused, fearing the consequences of sending private messages received from Public Security.
Another statement from the governor followed, which both Alwakeel News and Sada Al-Shaab (صدى الشعب) said was exclusive, which again contradicted the first one. What really happened at the party? Human rights journalist Mohamed Shamma told My Kali that it was not unusual for officials to issue contradictory statements, though they should apologize to those who were defamed and treated as criminals. Taking these people to security centers and portraying them as criminals is a form of defamation that entitles them to file complaints as long as they didn’t break the law. However, Shamma added that the Crime Prevention Act gives vast powers to law enforcement officers and Ministry of Interior personnel to control what they think violates morals and community security. In other words, this law jeopardizes personal freedoms and rights under the pretext of community security.
The Night of Horror
On Friday, at 00:05, Marwan* went to a licensed venue to attend a party with his friends in Amman and have some fun away from his work routine.
Marwan was dancing to loud DJ music among the tables, as was everyone else when the place was suddenly filled with screams. The windows were smashed in and glass was everywhere. People got scared and ran to the door. They had no idea what was going on, and it could be saboteurs or terrorists trying to harm everyone. Marwan also ran, only to find uniformed police officers telling people to get back inside and closing the doors without giving any clear reasons. Tension grew and people began whispering, “Is the place unlicensed?”, “Are there criminals?”, “Why are the police here?” and “Why are they treating us this way? What have we done?”
Marwan waited for 20 minutes and then saw two plainclothes officers enter and head towards two young men, one of them in feminine clothes. They took the young men outside by force and without giving any reasons as if they were wanted criminals. Tensions increased further as other attendees thought that they might be next but then dissipated when the door opened and they were allowed to leave one by one. Marwan, who seemed hesitant to recall what had happened, said “They let us out like sheep; it was humiliating. As we went out, I saw them arrest other people.”
Marwan had no idea why they chose some people and not others, and he was really scared that he couldn’t remember what he saw as he left. But many attendees gathered outside and took pictures of those present. The police also took pictures of attendees, not showing any respect for their privacy or preventing spectators from taking pictures. “We were scared. No one likes to have pictures taken of them without their permission, especially so publically on the street. The police took pictures of us and we feared that there would be anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech and stuff like that.”
Social activist Zaid* said that he received a late-night call from friends who told him that security services had raided a party where there were some gay and trans people. That night, he cautiously followed up on the matter with a group of activists. Summarizing what had happened, he said, “The police arrested people whose gender expressions, from the state’s point of view, don’t conform to society. What for? What is the crime the governor expects to prevent? This is reminiscent of the English soldier’s mockery of Glubb Pasha’s Bedouin troop for their cherished long hair, calling them Glubb’s girls until they were forced to cut it short.”1
Shamma also said, “One’s appearance, dress, and orientation are not crimes for which the governor gets to arrest people. Here, however, indecency is a keyword, which brings religion into the picture, legitimizing the arrest of these people. Law doesn’t define how we should dress.”
Protecting Colonial Masculinity
The seventeen-article Jordanian Crime Prevention Act gives powers to the administrative governor to arrest and detain any person against whom a report was made, solely on suspicion and without giving reasons or charges.2 This is what happened to those arrested at the party, and it is the same law that has previously been used to arrest gay people. For example, this happened in 2021 when the the administrator of Southern Shouneh brigade, Tayel Al-Majali, ordered the arrest of 14 people who were at a private party on charges of attending a “faggots party.” He said that intelligence-based information was collected on the location in order to purportedly protect masculinity.
“Crime Prevention Acts only exist in occupying countries, such as the Israeli occupation, which exploits it to arrest Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.”Judge Alaa Mustafa
This contradicts the Jordanian Constitution, and more specifically Clause 1 of Article 7, which stipulates that “Personal freedom shall be guaranteed.” Clause 2 of the same article stipulates that “Every infringement on rights and public freedoms or the inviolability of the private life of Jordanians is a crime punishable by law.” Article 128, too, stipulates that “The laws issued in accordance with this Constitution for the regulation of rights and freedoms may not influence the essence of such rights or affect their fundamentals.”3
In a previous statement made to a local media outlet, retired judge Alaa Mustafa said that Crime Prevention Act was enacted by the British occupation in 1927 to oppress Jordanians who rejected the occupation, adding that it was amended in 1933 and in 1954 and it is still in operation. He asserted that “Crime Prevention Acts only exist in occupying countries, such as the Israeli occupation, which exploits it to arrest Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.”
In a statement made to a different local media outlet, MP Zaid Al-Atoum said, “It’s the political conditions that led to the adoption of the Crime Prevention Act from the British Penal Code, which was in force in Palestine, Sudan, and Jordan. Its aim has been to strengthen the British presence and oppress resistance.”
Shamma added that “The governor is an employee at the Ministry of Interior and has powers to arrest people. This is exactly what adds to people’s frustration. The law is not on their side and doesn’t protect them; it is a tool that is often used to arrest human rights activists, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ people, etc.” But why has the state’s approach to gay arrests changed this year? Last year, authorities cracked down on a party that they called “gay party,” while this year they called this one “suspicious,” then retracted their statement, claiming that there was a “brawl at a party.” Is the state trying to maintain its image as a country that respects its citizens in the eyes of the international community? This combination of colonial law (Crime Prevention Act) and alleged homosexuality makes one think about the Kingdom’s relations with the US Embassy, which has always talked about supporting rights and freedoms while also supporting the security services that perform such raids.
It is no secret that the United States provides military and security support to Jordan, trains its cadres, and provides it with military gear,4 which evidences the two countries’ strong relationship. Though the former US ambassador in Jordan, Alice G. Wells, expressed her country’s support for gay rights as human rights, this support was not apparent when the US embassy in Jordan ignored my request for their comment on the Jordanian police raid on the November 4th party. Their response, which I received on November 15th, was evasive: “We work on promoting human rights for LGTBQ+ people … The US advocates universal values, including respect for rule of law, democratic institutions, and human rights.”
This might be a reason for changes in local authorities’ handling of arrests: they are trying to maintain their relationship with the international partners who train the security forces that carry out these raids.
I called the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA), hoping that I would get to one of the lawyers and talk to them about the Crime Prevention Act. I talked to their media department, who asked me to send an email with my questions. After much stalling, they told me that my email was received by their lawyers who would reply to me. I followed up a week later, asking them to confirm if the Center didn’t want to comment. Again, I received no reply. I also contacted Human Rights Watch (HRW) more than once. When they finally replied, they said they were overworked and suggested referring me to another staff member. This is yet to happen. I also contacted a judge who held an official position, but he refused to have his statements published, fearing for his social reputation and image because, as he said, My Kali is a pro-LGBT zine.
In these kinds of cases, particularly with this information blackout, one can hardly piece together the full story. And yet, many media outlets use words like “suspicious” and “indecent” to attract people without even knowing what has happened. The government issues contradictory statements to show the international community it doesn’t violate human rights, and the US Embassy evades giving a direct answer so as not to reveal that its speeches were mere words.
Some local and international Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) keep their distance, especially if the story is related to LGBTQ+ communities; it’s as if they were willing to support all rights but theirs. Even more serious is what has happened to the victims and witnesses who are afraid to talk due to what they have faced as part of authorities’ systematic and deliberate attempts to destroy a whole group’s physical, mental and sexual health.5 Here, I recall what the Social Justice activist Zaid told me, “We love our country and we want to stay, but they want to force us to leave it by any means.”
* For safety purposes, all the names in this article are pseudonyms.
Cited News Sources:
2021, July 4. Fourteen Young Men and Women Arrested during a Raid on a Party for Faggots in Jordan, Al-Bawaba (البوابة).
2022, April 21. Former Judges and Governors Unanimously that Crime Prevention Act Need to be Repealed, Husna.FM.
2022, November 5. Eight People Arrested after Raiding a Suspicious Party. Roya News.
2022, November 5. Amman … Eight People Arrested after Raiding a Suspicious Party. Al-Ghad (الغد),
2022, November 5. A Suspicious Party in Amman … A Police Raid and Seizures. Madar Al Saa Newspaper (مدار الساعة).
2022, November 6. A Source Reveals New Details on a Suspicious Party. Altheqa News (الثقة نيوز)Talal Ghunaimat, 2022, November 8. “Crime Prevention Laws … Is it Inconsistent with Reform?. Al-Ghad Newspaper (الغد).
- Joseph A. Massad, Colonial Effects: The making of national identity in Jordan. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 226.
- قانون منع الجرائم رقم 7 لسنة 1954 https://psd.gov.jo/media/tj4eu34m/4-1.pdf
- Jordanian Parliament, “Jordanian Constitution.”
- U.S. Embassy in Jordan, “Jordan and America: Seven decades of friendship and partnership”; U.S. Embassy in Jordan, “Statement on US Assistance for Jordan from Chargé d’Affaires Jim Barnart”
- World Health Organization, “Sexual Health.”