Jordan frees opposition-run teachers union leaders

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan on Sunday released 13 leaders of an opposition-run teachers union, judicial sources said, nearly a month after detaining them in a move weakening a group that has become a leading source of dissent. The government on July 25 closed the offices of the 100,000 strong union and suspended its activity for two years, in one of the largest crackdown on a major dissident group in recent years.

Prosecutors who put a gag order on media coverage of the judicial investigation had charged the leader of the union Nasser Nawasrah with incitement and 12 other members of the union’s council with financial wrongdoing. The union says the charges are baseless.

Judicial sources said their release marked the end of a month long administrative detention, and they were free pending a court decision on wherther there is a case to answer.

Some government officials accused the union leaders of harbouring the Islamist opposition’s political agenda. The union says this accusation is part of a government smear campaign.

The detention of the 13 triggered demonstrations across the country calling for their release, the government’s resignation, and an end to corruption. The authorities arrested over 350 teachers during the protests, some of whom are still detained.

Civic groups and independent politicians say the government has been using emergency laws enacted in March at the start of the coronavirus lockdown to limit civil and political rights.

U.S. based Human Rights Watch had criticized the crackdown and urged the authorities to end intimidation tactics that bar people from exercising their right to freedom of association.

“The release of the teachers union leaders is a positive step but Jordanian authorities must urgently review the dubious closure of the syndicate and ongoing prosecutions,” Adam Coogle, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa division, told Reuters.

Political opposition is often marginalized in Jordan, but protests have grown in recent years over eroding living standards, corruption and the slow pace of political reforms.

Union leaders said they would press on with their campaign to end the freeze on their activities and to force the authorities to honour an unfulfilled deal over pay rises.

The union went on strike last year, shutting down schools across Jordan for a month, in one of the longest and most disruptive public sector strikes in the country’s history.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean