AMMAN: Jordan must stop using a military tribunal to prosecute peaceful demonstrators after several were arrested this month for protesting at rising fuel prices, the Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
"Instead of respecting the right to peaceful protest, the Jordanian authorities are using what remains essentially a military court to punish civilians, including peaceful protesters," Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director, said in a statement.
"Authorities should stop using the special security courts to try civilians, and recognize that peaceful assembly is not a crime."
HRW said Jordanian authorities have arrested more than 300 people since November 14, although dozens were later freed.
It said that "at least 107, including nine children, were referred to state security courts on charges including 'subverting the system of government,' 'participation in unlawful gatherings,' and 'vandalism of property.'"
The rights watchdog said that while some protests turned violent, authorities have targeted protesters who participated in peaceful gatherings.
"Security forces attacked protesters during demonstrations and in detention centres," it added.
A government announcement earlier this month that fuel prices, including cooking gas, would rise by up to 53 percent sparked a series of nationwide protests, rioting and clashes that killed one person and wounded dozens.
Some of the protesters also called for King Abdullah II to step down, which is punishable by imprisonment under Jordanian law.
"The state security court is a special court that is not independent of the executive. The prime minister appoints its judges, who typically sit on panels of two military judges and one civilian judge," HRW said.
The court has jurisdiction over penal code crimes deemed harmful to Jordan's internal and external security, involving drugs, explosives, weapons, espionage, and high treason "but also including offences related to peaceful speech."
"Jordan cannot claim to be pursuing democratic reforms while authorities punish peaceful dissent," Stork said.
"Authorities should drop charges against peaceful protesters and investigate all episodes of police abuse."