AMMAN, Jordan, AP -Human Rights Watch criticized Jordan’s arrest of four lawmakers who visited the family of slain terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, calling it a violation of freedom of expression.
“Expressing condolences to the family of a dead man, however murderous he might be, is not a crime,” Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement Saturday.
The lawmakers, members of Jordan’s largest opposition group, visited al-Zarqawi’s family home in Zarqa, 17 miles northeast of Amman, on June 9, two days after al-Qaida in Iraq leader was killed in a U.S. airstrike north of Baghdad.
One of the legislators, Mohammed Abu Fares, described al-Zarqawi as a “martyr.”
Abu Fares and three others — Jaafar al-Hourani, Ali Abu Sukkar and Ibrahim al-Mashwakhi — were arrested two days later and charged with “instigating sectarian strike” and “fueling national discord.” They remain jailed, serving 15-day detention orders.
Whitson said “a dubious comment about an alleged terrorist leader” should not be considered “incitement to violence.”
“Going after these people is an unacceptable violation of their basic rights to free speech,” she said.
The New York-based rights group urged Jordan not to “roll back on its commitment to fully respect freedom of expression.”
“Rather than implement the reforms it promised, the government of Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit is giving the intelligence agencies, the police and prosecutors free rein to clamp down on legitimate speech,” it said.
Jordanian government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The legislators’ visit sparked two protests in the past week, in which thousands of Jordanians flooded Amman’s streets demanding that King Abdullah II dissolve parliament.
Families of those killed the November triple hotel bombings in Amman — for which al-Zarqawi had claimed responsibility — have demanded parliament punish the lawmakers.