Does the torture of prisoners work?

Jordan: Torture in prisons is common and widespread

(Amman, Oct. 8, 2008) - Jordan aims to put an end to everyday and widespread torture in its prisons, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch calls on the Jordanian government to improve methods of investigating, disciplining and punishing perpetrators, and in particular, to move the investigation of abuses in prisons to the civil law enforcement agencies.

The 95-page report "Torture and Impunity in Jordan's Prisons: Reforms Fail to Tackle Widespread Abuse" documents the credible allegations of abuse to torture, which 66 of the 110 randomly selected prisoners in a survey in 2007 and 2008 in seven of ten Jordanian prisons on record, and evidence presented by Human Rights Watch shows that five prison directors appear to have personally participated in the torture of detainees.

"Torture is still widespread in the Jordanian penal system two years after King Abdullah-led reforms," ​​said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch simply not."

The most common forms of torture include beatings with cables and sticks, and hours of hanging and whipping by the guards. For this purpose, the prisoners are hung by the wrists on a metal grate. Prison guards also readily torture prisoners for alleged violations of prison rules. Human Rights Watch also found evidence that numerous Islamists convicted or charged with crimes against national security (Tanzimat) were punished.

Prison officials say the punishments and other ill-treatment are isolated cases. A prison reform program launched in 2006 has improved prison conditions and made prison staff more accountable. Research by Human Rights Watch shows that reform has made improvements in key areas such as health care, overcrowding, and visiting and recreational opportunities. But impunity for physical abuse of prisoners is still the norm.

An amendment to the Criminal Code of October 2007 made torture of prisoners a criminal offense for the first time, and in early 2008 the Public Security Office appointed prosecutors to investigate ill-treatment in seven prisons. But so far there have been no corresponding prosecutions.

In February 2008, the agency first allowed the National Center for Human Rights to set up an office in Swaqa Prison. Critical reporting of a prisoner riot there in April 2008, however, prompted the Public Security Bureau to discontinue its cooperation with the center.

"Jordan has made some efforts to tackle the problem of torture in prisons, but the bottom line is that the measures have been inadequate and torture is still going on," said Whitson.

Two separate incidents, each with large groups of inmates tortured and ill-treated, are indicative of the lack of accountability. Despite numerous indications that prison workers in Juwaida and Swaqa were torturing Islamist inmates after the successful escape of two Islamist prisoners from Juwaida in June 2007, the Jordanian authorities did not initiate an investigation. A third incident - the April 14, 2008 prison riots and fire in Muwaqqar Prison that killed three prisoners - opened an extensive investigation by the Public Security Bureau, which oversees all security services, including those in prisons. The investigating authorities did not bring proceedings against a guard accused by prisoners of torturing them and some of the later burn victims before the fire broke out. An independent, extrajudicial investigation by the national center for human rights found that the mistreatment of prisoners had played an important role in the outbreak of the riot. Nevertheless, the investigating authorities came to the conclusion that no officer had been guilty of anything.

Part of the problem is that prison administrations have the authority to conduct internal disciplinary proceedings. In this way, you can avoid formal charges against torturing officers. In 2007, the Public Security Bureau investigated 19 alleged cases of torture across Jordan and referred six to law enforcement agencies. At the same time, the directors of the three prisons, Muwaqqar, Qafqafa and Swaqa, told Human Rights Watch that they had held six officers internally accountable for prisoner abuse without contacting the Public Security Bureau. Prison directors in Jordan can punish such ill-treatment as an "offense" without notifying the police courts.

"The cause of the Public Security Bureau's reluctance to prosecute and punish torturing prison officials is due to a misguided desire to protect the reputation of the law enforcement agency," said Whitson Profession, including officials who do their duty without resorting to abuse and torture. "

Human Rights Watch also advises that police prosecutors and police judges are responsible for investigating and prosecuting their fellow prisoners for prisoner abuse and torture as part of police justice. The officers investigating the incidents of abuse in prisons referred only a very small number of cases with an overwhelming burden of proof for prosecution.

Even in very blatant cases of torture, in which criminal prosecution came about, the decisions of the police court were anything but exemplary. In one case, the Police Court sentenced Majid al-Rawashda, the former director of Swaqa Prison, to a fine of JOD 120 (around US $ 180) for ordering the ill-treatment of 70 prisoners in August 2007 and for himself being involved in it. The court found 12 other prison guards, who were also involved in the sentence, not guilty of "following orders." The court sentenced two and a half guards who beat Firas Zaidan to death in Aqaba Prison in May 2007 The court also reduced the sentence to two and a half years for officers who beat Abdullah Mashaqba to death in Juwaida Prison in 2004 for being "in their prime".

"Police and law enforcement agencies cannot credibly investigate themselves," Whitson says. "Civil prosecutors and judges should investigate and assess all incidents of prisoner abuse so that torturers can no longer be unpunished and victims of torture can seek redress."

Since the beginning of the prison reform in 2006, Jordan has sought advice abroad to improve conditions in prisons. The New York Kerik Group provided training assistance and advised the Jordanian law enforcement authorities on matters relating to prison administration, equipment and new buildings - including the construction of a high-security prison that only contains cells (240) for solitary confinement and is due to open at the end of 2008. The Austrian Ministry of Justice is currently involved in an EU-sponsored partnership project for prison reform with the Public Security Office.

Human Rights Watch urges Jordanian donors to take a proactive approach to the problem of widespread torture and to make at least some of their support conditional on the establishment of independent investigative and law enforcement mechanisms.