U.N. Torture Report Dismays Jordan

Human rights organizations have long accused Arab governments of torture. Jordan, which became the first Arab state to host a U.N. investigaton of torture, is not pleased with the results.

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Human rights organizations for decades have condemned Arab governments for the practice of torture. The Kingdom of Jordan, which is a close ally of the United States, is no exception. Last year Jordan became the first Arab state to host a visit by a special United Nations official charged with investigating torture. His report was not to the Jordan's liking, as Kristen Gillespie reports from Amman.

KRISTEN GILLESPIE: The Freedom Committee of the powerful Jordan Engineers Association regularly meets to discuss the status of its members who are detained or being harassed by the Jordanian government. This professional association counts more than 60,000 members. Its board is dominated by Islamists. This makes the engineers one of the most influential opposition groups in Jordan, and it makes their members vulnerable to the omnipresent intelligence service.

It's fear of the intelligence apparatus, says Maysara Mallas, head of the Freedom Committee, that explains why former Jordanian prisoners refuse to publicly discuss their treatment while incarcerated.

Mr. MAYSARA MALLAS (Freedom Committee): (Through translator) I tried to find many people to talk to you. They all declined out of fear.

GILLESPIE: The Freedom Committee has been trying to draw attention to torture in Jordan for more than a decade. But it had little success until U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Novak visited Jordan and wrote a 40-page report issued earlier this year that includes a list of alleged torture practices, among them the use of electric cables, burnings with cigarette butts, suspending prisoners in various painful positions, beatings on the soles of the feet, and then being forced to walk on salt afterwards.

Novak says he talked to more than 40 detainees and a variety of sources inside and outside Jordan to document his conclusions.

Mr. MANFRED NOVAK (United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture): Very high officials have very openly admitted to me that my findings actually corresponds to their knowledge or their feelings or their fears.

GILLESPIE: But Mahmoud Al Hmoud, the legal adviser at the foreign ministry, denies the U.N. report's conclusion.

So what in the report was accurate?

Mr. MAHMOUD AL HMOUD (Jordanian Foreign Ministry): Well, if you are talking about certain conclusions in the report, we cannot say basically that anything in totality of the report was accurate.

GILLESPIE: Hmoud says that if torture occurs in Jordan, the cases are isolated ones and ultimately the perpetrators are prosecuted. Hmoud also says Novak's harsh criticism of Jordan likely means he'll not be able to investigate the situation in other Arab countries.

Mr. HMOUD: Unfortunately we are the only country in the Middle East which allowed Mr. Novak access and eventually his report will backfire when Mr. Novak is going to try to visit other countries in the region. This is how we personally feel. This is not promoting human rights.

GILLESPIE: Novak says he appreciates the Jordanian government's cooperation, but adds that he stands by every line of his report.

Mr. NOVAK: The very fact that they invite me should not mean that I'm not allowed to actually report publicly what I have found, and I have found that torture is actually more widespread than I have expected before coming to Jordan.

GILLESPIE: Maysar Mallas of the Freedom Committee says the use of torture in Jordan is part of an overall crackdown in the name of national security. He says the 9/11 attacks gave the Jordanian authorities a pretext to further repress human rights.

For NPR News, I'm Kristen Gillespie in Iran.

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