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AMMAN: Several Jordanian MPs joined activists, human rights groups and civil society organizations to demand the release of 36 Jordanian students detained this week for apparently participating in a protest against Jordan’s signing a declaration of intent with Israel to trade clean electricity for water.

MP Khalil Atiyeh told Arab News on Friday he was “appalled” that the students had not yet been released.

Atiyeh led the signing of a petition by 30 lawmakers protesting the arrests, which were criticized by human rights groups and civil society organizations.

“I spoke to parliament about the case calling for their immediate release and I was promised that they would be released, but so far they have not been released,” Atiyeh said.

Jamal Jeet, a member of the National Forum for the Defense of Freedom, told Arab News that the governor of Amman ordered that the detained students be held in prisons far from the capital in order to punish them and their families.

Jeet called the detention orders “illegal,” saying they violate articles seven and eight of the Jordanian constitution, which guarantee citizens’ right to freedom of expression and assembly.

“They are being held under laws that aim to keep criminals away from the general public because they are dangerous,” he said.

About 3,000 demonstrators gathered in downtown Amman on Friday to protest the deal with Israel. Many were holding signs with the names of the detained students.

A Jordanian official, who asked to remain anonymous, denied claims that authorities were targeting anyone expressing opposition to the deal and stressed that no students have been arrested for demonstrating on a university campus .

The 36 detained students had broken the law by demonstrating in the Dakhiliyah (inner) circle, “a vital central area in the heart of Amman, where they blocked the flow of people and traffic,” the official said.

“Security officials repeatedly asked the students to leave and demonstrate in another area to avoid compromising road safety and disrupting traffic, the flow of people and businesses, but they refused,” he said. added the manager. “Our regulations protect the right to peaceful protest and ensure the safety of participants, but when the law is violated, the authorities are compelled to act.”

The official pointed to the fact that hundreds of citizens demonstrated on Friday and stressed that no one would be arrested for demonstrating as long as they abided by the law.

“It is unfair and inaccurate to claim that we are targeting those who oppose the deal,” the official said.

The semi-governmental Center for Human Rights called the arrests “a violation of the rights of expression and assembly and a blatant violation of the constitution, which guarantees freedoms and considers it a crime for anyone to violate the freedom of Jordanians “.

Zaid O. Nabulsi, a member of the Royal Commission for the Modernization of Political Systems, told Arab News that the arrests sent a “devastating message” to the younger generation, who were told their voices would be heard.

“If you had intended to destroy the hard work of the Royal Committee over the past four months, you could not have achieved your goal better,” Nabulsi said.

Himam, a coalition of civil society organizations, issued a statement calling for the immediate release of the students and stressed “the need to investigate whether they have been subjected to beatings and ill-treatment which are considered to be a form of torture “.

Himam also called for the abolition of the law which “treats peaceful protesters like criminals”.

Muath Momani, legal adviser to Lawyers Without Borders, based in Jordan, told Arab News that what happened to the students is unacceptable.

“Criminal law is used to prevent people from expressing themselves,” Momani said. “The political atmosphere should be more open to allow people to express themselves.”

Ammar Borini, who monitors social media for the Amman Net website, told Arab News that the issue of student arrests is trending in Jordan.

“Many express their anger and quote the king saying (to young people), ‘We want to hear your voice. They say on social media: ‘Here (young people) are speaking out and they ended up in jail.’ “

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