In Jordan, one of the few countries in the Middle East where same-sex relations do not incur a criminal penalty, the government has initiated a crackdown on LGBTQ+ activists in a coordinated campaign of intimidation.
According to a report released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday, interviews with 13 prominent LGBTQ+ activists in the country reveal tactics of intimidation and abuse forcing activists to cease their advocacy work or flee the country altogether.
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In the past, Jordan has promoted itself as a modernizing influence among Middle Eastern nations compared with its neighbors. The country’s sodomy laws, dating back to British rule, were repealed in 1951.
“Jordanian authorities have launched a coordinated attack against LGBT rights activists, aimed at eradicating any discussion around gender and sexuality from the public and private spheres,” said Rasha Younes, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces’ intimidation tactics and unlawful interference in LGBT organizing have driven activism further underground and forced civil society leaders into an impossible reality: severe self-censorship or fleeing Jordan.”
The report details how Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) and the Preventive Security Department of the Public Security Directorate have interrogated LGBTQ+ activists about their work, intimidated them with threats of violence, arrest, and prosecution, and forced activists to shut down their organizations.
Some activists have been kidnapped without legal cause and interrogated overnight.
Other tactics have included smearing activists online based on their sexual orientation and deploying other social media users to out activists online and incite violence against them.
In addition to interviewing 13 LGBTQ+ rights activists and others associated with the Jordanian LGBTQ+ community, HRW reviewed statements by government officials, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals, as well as visual media provided by activists documenting incidents of online harassment against them in public social media posts.
One victim, the director of an unnamed LGBTQ+ center, says he was forced into a car by authorities and interrogated overnight. GID agents called his parents and outed him, he said. Others detailed the forced cancellation of events in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and multiple instances of online harassment.
All of the activists targeted described the intimidation as a serial effort, with each of them summoned for interrogation multiple times. Three of the activists described interrogations by the governor of Amman, who interviewed them after they preemptively canceled the screening of a film depicting gay men.
Two organizations’ directors said they were forced to shut down their offices and flee the country following official intimidation.
“We arrived in a foreign country without any plan or support,” said one organization leader who fled with his boyfriend. “We had no choice. Since I fled Jordan, I consistently wake up screaming in terror. It has been the hardest experience I have ever been through.”
One LGBTQ+ activist who has remained in Jordan described her current reality: “Merely existing in Amman has become terrifying.”