Jordan should free 'devil worship' students - rights group

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Jordan has been urged to free or charge five students that have been detained for more than two weeks following accusations of devil worship and Qur'an desecration.

Human Rights Watch said that the students, who attend the kingdom's Al al-Bayt University, have neither been charged nor had their case heard by a judge since being arrested on March 12. The group said that they had also been assaulted by a gang of other students, who themselves should face charges.

“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,” he added.

The sister of one of the five detainees told Human Rights Watch that a gang of 200 other students attacked the five following rumours that they had engaged in devil worship and desecrated a copy of Islam's holy book while performing a 'religious' ritual in one of the universities dormitories.

The sister claimed that the group had been targeted due to their penchant for loud rock music and dark clothes.

The five were detained by university security and later handed over to authorities, although Human Rights Watch said that no evidence had been presented against them.

A well-known Salafi sheikh in the Sunni Muslim country has also reportedly advocated the students' death.

Relatives told Human Rights Watch that they were unsure of the legal basis for detaining the five, although the local al-Sabeel newspaper reported on March 21 that Jordan's public prosecutor had authorised the extension of their detention for a further week, while they were investigated for “sowing discord [fitna] and defaming religion”.

Under international law, Jordan must ensure that no one in the country is arbitrarily detained.

“Rather than locking up these five students without charge and compounding the harm done to them, the authorities should be bringing to justice those who violently assaulted them,” Goldstein said. “They should also investigate reported statements that appear to call for the students’ deaths and prosecute their authors if they amount to direct incitement to murder.”

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