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Two journalists arrested over ‘false’ tax evasion accusations against minister

By Rana Husseini - Jan 16,2018 - Last updated at Jan 16,2018

AMMAN — The Amman prosecutor on Tuesday ordered the detention of two journalists 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, according to JPA members and JPA Lawyer Mahmoud Qteishat.

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)”, Qteishat told The Jordan Times.

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.

“We tried to post a bail today to release them but, by the time the order was made by the prosecutor, it was too late because the working day was over,” Qteishat explained.

The lawyer said that he will post a bail first thing in the morning.

Abul Ghanam was unavailable all day on Tuesday despite Repeated attempts by The Jordan Times to comment on the decision to detain the journalists.

Meanwhile, JPA board member Khaled Qudah, who is also head of the Freedom’s Committee at the syndicate, denounced the arrests, stressing that the JPA is “against the detention of any individual in press freedom cases”.

“We are against detention before a final verdict is issued and the judiciary makes a fair decision. What if they were declared innocent? Who will compensate them for the time they were detained for?” Qudah told The Jordan Times.

Qudah added that the JPA is following up closely on the case in courts and “is in constant contact with officials to secure the release of both journalists”.

“This detention is not in favour of Jordan and reflects negatively on the country’s image internationally, especially since a JPA board member was arrested and there are tax evasion accusations against a minister,” Qudah added.

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 with 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.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists on Tuesday issued a statement voicing its concern over the arrest or the two journalists.

 

In the statement, received by The Jordan Times, the centre said that the arrests would “affect the image of Jordanian democracy”, calling for amending the legislation that allows detention of journalists.

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