Jordan on Sunday ended laws enacted at the start of Covid 19 that gave the authorities powers to enforce a state of emergency that rights groups said were used as an excuse to suppress civic and political liberties. A royal decree approved a cabinet decision to annul the state of emergency passed nearly three years ago at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 that granted the prime minister extensive powers to curtail fundamental rights and freeze existing laws. A cabinet spokesperson reportedly told the media that the royal decree meant that Jordan’s legislative system “will go back to its normality as life has returned to normal.”
The laws at the start of the pandemic included mandatory home quarantine, restrictions on gatherings and public events and an order for people to wear masks in public. They also required people to pledge not to spread or infect others with the virus. Some measures were criticized for stifling public freedoms, including freedom of assembly and speech. Several journalists and activists were imprisoned or harassed, and there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without proper legal authority.
Some other measures enacted by the state of emergency included limiting food supplies in stores and forcing people to buy them in the government’s designated shops. The restrictions also imposed curbs on traveling and the movement of people between regions.
Officials reportedly argued that the emergency was necessary because of the public’s inability to take the pandemic seriously. However, the laws were also criticized for their impact on the economy. The country relied heavily on tourists, and many businesses had to close.
Other measures enacted during the state of emergency included limiting the number of restaurants allowed opening, requiring them to adhere to Ministry of Health guidelines, preventing their employees from smoking in the workplace, and banning argileh (hookah) in coffee shops and restaurants.
Aside from the stifling of public freedoms, some of the government’s emergency laws were criticized as discriminatory. For example, some of the stipulations in the Defense Order stipulated that a person must be banished to another geographic area if their family members are accused of homicide.
The state of emergency was also criticized for its impact on the economic well-being of Jordanians. Amid the lockdown, many families had to rely on friends and neighbors for support. This led to a rise in crime, especially theft and robbery, and some citizens had to turn to black market activities like drug dealing and prostitution to supplement their incomes. Others said they could not afford to buy enough food to feed their families.