Jordanian secret police have been accused of intimidating gay people by “outing” them to their families and of forcing the closure of two LGBTQ+ organisations.
Human rights groups say activists have been abducted, harassed and monitored, as well as having their sexuality revealed to religiously conservative families.
Sources say the intimidation campaign has seen a recent increase in targeting of LGBTQ+ individuals and groups by Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate’s (GID). In January two activists were allegedly detained by GID officers and had their bank accounts frozen.
Mounir*, director of an unnamed LGTBQ+ centre, described being forced into a car by intelligence officers, before being interrogated and detained overnight. GID agents then called his parents, he said, and told them that he was homosexual.
“Our relationship was ruined after that. I had to move out from my parents’ house,” he said.
The intimidation is despite Jordan being one of very few Middle Eastern countries where same-sex relationships have been decriminalised, but there are still no legal protections against homophobic discrimination and public opinion remains hostile to sexual minorities.
Representatives of Rainbow Street – an organisation that provides protection and support for asylum applications by at-risk individuals in the Middle East and north Africa – and the unnamed LGBTQ+ centre, say they were forced to close their operations in Jordan due to the increased pressure.
The Jordanian authorities have denied the allegations, saying no such groups ever existed.
Fawaz*, a former director of Rainbow Street, said he was harassed and interrogated by the GID on many occasions.
In one instance, Fawaz said he was intercepted on the street, pushed into a car and interrogated. He was warned to stop his activism or criminal charges could be brought against him.
Later, GID agents visited his home and spoke to his parents, inquiring about their son’s wellbeing. Fawaz said this was to remind him that they could easily reveal his sexual orientation to his parents.
Rainbow Street also began to receive threatening emails from anonymous accounts. One such email, seen by the Guardian, said: “Where you guys work is watched and under surveillance by the Jordanian intelligence.
“I’m informing you now, don’t be stupid. Your activities are all watched,” it said. “Stop attending that place – it won’t end up well.”
Both Fawaz and Mounir have since sought asylum abroad – leaving possessions, friends and family behind. Neither of them explained to their loved ones the reasons for their sudden departure, fearful that this could risk exposing their families to further reprisals from the security services.
“I never thought I would become a refugee,” Fawaz said. I never wanted to leave my home country. I just literally woke up one day, and everything had been taken out from under my feet.”
Rasha Younes, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that the Jordanian authorities’ crackdown started in 2015, stepping up in recent years.
“The more visibility the LGBT movement has gotten, the more intensified the crackdown on the community has gotten,” she said.
“As a result of being outed, LGBT people reported losing their jobs, suffering family violence, including physical abuse, threats to their lives … and fleeing the country for risk of persecution.”
The reasons behind the apparent targeting remain unclear but rights groups say there has been a wider decline of civil rights and freedoms under way in the country.
In September 2022, HRW reported Jordanian authorities had increasingly harassed activists and journalists, encroached on civic spaces, and restricted their access to basic rights.
“The weaponisation of society against queer people is their tactic,” Fawaz said. “The government wouldn’t kill you or put you in jail because you’re gay. But they will let your family kill you.”
Fawaz said a number of people had faced violence from their families after authorities revealed their sexual orientation.
The concerns of the LGBTQ+ community in Jordan comes amid a wave of hate speech and repressive moves in several Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, where authorities banned the use of the word “homosexuality” in the media last week, ordering the phrase “sexual deviance” be used instead.
In July, Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese cleric and head of the pro-Iran militant group Hezbollah, called for LGBTQ+ people to be killed.
Activists say the targeting of LGBTQ+ people by the authorities has had a chilling effect on the community, with many afraid that informants could infiltrate venues used by them.
The two Jordanian centres had provided mental health resources, advocacy and emergency assistance to more than 1,000 people, as well as providing a safe space for individuals to meet and talk.
“The only thing I regret is believing that we could be safe,” Younes said. “We never realised how strong, big and brutal the system is. No matter what you do, when they want to come for you, they will.
The Jordanian government has denied that LGBTQ+ individuals are a target for the security agencies and stated that “no LGBTQ+ organisations exist in Jordan” and that “security agencies in Jordan never interrogated or arrested any LGBTQ+ individuals”.
A statement to the Guardian claimed that allegations of harassment were made by individuals to bolster their chances of receiving asylum abroad.
“LGBTQ+ individuals are not a target for security agencies, including the General Intelligence Department, and if there are any cases of detention, then this is related to violating other laws,” it said.
* Names have been changed