(Beirut) – Jordanian authorities should immediately charge or release five Al al-Bayt university students detained since March 12, 2013, after other students alleged they had desecrated a Quran and engaged in “devil worship” . The students, who deny the accusations and have neither been charged nor taken before a judge, were assaulted by a crowd of other students, and their attackers should be brought to justice, Human Rights Watch said.
“Jordanian authorities should release the five students and take steps to protect them from further attack,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should hold to account anyone who joined in this witch hunt and committed acts of violence. They should not be allowed to walk free while their victims are locked up.”
Authorities should also investigate reported remarks, including by a well-known Salafi shaikh, advocating the students’ deaths and prosecute anyone whose language amounted to direct incitement to murder. Other students had alleged the five detainees had “desecrated a Quran” or engaged in “devil worship” but no evidence of criminal behavior has been presented to the detained students, relatives told Human Rights Watch.
The sister of one of the five students told Human Rights Watch that a group of about 200 other students violently attacked her sister and four male students on the university campus following a rumor that some students had ripped and burned a Quran manuscript while performing a “religious ritual” in a campus bathroom. She said the attackers appeared to have targeted the five students because they frequently dress in black and are rock music devotees. Campus officials and student activists managed to pull the five students to safety, but local authorities then detained them and later handed them over to the security services. All five deny any involvement in the alleged Quran desecration.
The father of one of the male students told Human Rights Watch that his son had phoned him in distress from the university campus on the morning of March 12 and begged for help, saying, “Father they are beating me and I don’t know why.” The father drove immediately from his home in Amman to the university campus in Mafraq, in northern Jordan, but by the time he arrived the university authorities had transferred his son and the four other detained students to security service custody.
Relatives told Human Rights Watch that they did not know the legal basis for the students’ detention. The Jordanian news website al-Sabeel reported on March 21 that the Office of the Public Prosecutor had extended their detention for another seven days while it investigated them for “sowing discord