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Two journalists arrested over defamatory tax evasion claims released on bail

By Rana Husseini - Jan 18,2018 - Last updated at Jan 18,2018

AMMAN — The Amman prosecutor on Thursday decided to release on bail two journalists arrested for allegedly publishing tax evasion accusations against the Finance minister earlier this year.

Editor-in-chief of Jafra news website Omar Maharmeh, who is also a board member of the Jordan Press Association (JPA) and reporter Shadi Zaynati were ordered detained at Marka Prison by Amman Prosecutor Abdullah Abul Ghanam on Tuesday.

Minister of Finance Omar Malhas had filed a complaint against the two journalists after a news item reportedly appeared on Jafra website accusing him of “tax evasion during his service at the Housing Bank for Trade and Finance (HBTF)”, JPA lawyer Mahmoud Qteishat told The Jordan Times.

“The prosecutor agreed to release the two on a JD1,000 bail,” Qteishat said.

He added: “We expect the trial to start next week as the prosecutor has already heard several witnesses and experts in the case and is expected to refer the file to court sometime next week.”

The two journalists were summoned on Tuesday and ordered detained by Abul Ghanam following questioning, added Qteishat, who is only representing Maharmeh since Zaynati is not a JPA member.

The charges levelled against them include violation of the Electronic Crime Law, publishing false information and slandering an official.

JPA members and other local and international organisations have condemned the detention of the two journalists saying that “the step is against the freedom of press and prevents journalists from expressing themselves freely”.

On January 9, the Income and Sales Tax Department (ISTD) Director General Bashar Nasser refuted as “inaccurate” the Jafra report accusing Malhas of tax evasion during his service at the HBTF.

Nasser said that Malhas disclosed his end of service gratuity as well as his income the year he received it from the HBTF, adding that he paid all of his taxes in accordance to the law.

Nasser explained that, according to Article 12 of the Income Tax Law No. 34 of 2014, the employer deducts the tax from the employee’s income (in this case, the HBTF) and deposits it at the ISTD. 

 

“This proves the inaccuracy of the news reported by several websites,” he concluded.

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