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Protesters detained briefly over protest against gas deal with Israel

Activists criticise move to ‘limit freedom of expression’

By Suzanna Goussous - Nov 12,2016 - Last updated at Nov 12,2016

Activists protest against the deal to import gas from Israel recently (left). Right: An aerial view of the Prime Ministry near the 4th Circle in Amman, where activists were arrested while protesting against the deal on Friday (Photo by Osama Aqarbeh)

AMMAN — Around 50 activists were detained over their participation in a protest on Friday near the Prime Ministry to call for the cancellation of a deal signed by the state-owned electricity company in late September to import gas from Israel.

Hisham Bustani, director of the Jordanian National Campaign against the Gas Agreement with the Zionist Entity and the “Enemy’s Gas Is Occupation” movement, who was among the detained activists, said protesters, activists, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement members, students, association representatives and journalists were detained at the protest.

“It seems that the government is fed up with the peaceful protests held by the campaign and the civilised way of expressing our rejection,” he charged.

He said that the government, since 2014, has not interfered with the activities held to protest normalisation with Israel and the gas deal. “It seems we will witness a change in the direction,” Bustani told The Jordan Times.

“They told us the location of the protest is ‘sensitive’, although it has been used several times before, the last time being after [Nahed] Hattar’s assassination [in late September],” he added.

The activist said some of the detained protesters were asked to sign pledges that they will not participate in any “illegal” activities. 

Around 12 protesters signed the pledge, whereas the remaining activists held in police custody refused to do so, according to activist Alaa Hajjeh.

All detainees were released on the same day of the protest.

“The phrase holds more than one meaning and is indirect and vague. It is a way of pressuring activists and to limit their demonstrations and methods of expressing their opinion. We said it is our right to express our rejection,” Bustani said.

He added that during the past few weeks, activists in the Kingdom “have been facing several obstacles”, including bans on lectures on campuses, meetings and seminars on the gas deal. 

“The campaign will continue its activities until the deal is officially cancelled, as it violates the rights of Jordanian citizens, not to mention that the amount we will pay to invest in the terrorist state is too high,” Bustani added.

“We can invest the amount in creating job opportunities for young people. We don’t need the Israeli gas; we have alternatives in Jordan,” he argued.

Jordan signed the Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has been engaged in trade with it since then.

Government officials have previously stated that the gas deal, signed by the National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) with Noble Energy, a Houston-based company that holds the largest share in the Israeli Leviathan gas field, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel, “will not support the Israeli occupation of Palestine”. 

NEPCO officials have told The Jordan Times the deal would “save Jordan up to $600 million each year” and around 300 million cubic feet would be imported by Jordan daily.

The deal covers almost 40 per cent of Jordan’s electricity needs, according to NEPCO.

Hajjeh, a university student, said the detention of protesters against the deal is “a clear message of limiting activists’ freedom”.

“The levels of freedom of expression have been witnessing a decline in Jordan,” he said.

Al Wihda Popular Party said in a statement: “The government’s oppressive measures will only lead to more insistence on our part.”

Officials from the Ministry of Interior were not available to comment despite several attempts by The Jordan Times.

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