AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan’s King Abdullah ordered the release of more than one hundred protesters detained after calling for his downfall during last month’s fuel price riots, officials said.
The king pardoned the protesters after meeting with tribal leaders, who demanded their release and argued their detention violated their freedom of expression, the officials added.
Jordan has so far largely avoided the unrest that has swept across the Middle East over the past two years, but the decision to raise fuel prices sparked riots, particularly in outlying areas inhabited by tribes, Jordan’s original inhabitants.
A friend of the West, the monarch is seen by many Jordanians as a bulwark of stability, balancing the interests of the tribes and the increasingly assertive Palestinian majority.
Instability in Jordan would come at a dangerous time for the region, when Syria’s war risks spilling across borders and after an eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas that ended with a ceasefire.
The king told the gathering he would ensure that there would no more arrests of people based on their political views and criticised the beatings of some protesters, officials present at the meeting said.
Jordan’s monarchs have in the past pardoned dissidents to damp down disaffection.
Minister of Information Samih al Maaytah said 116 protesters would be released. Another 13 charged with vandalism during the riots were not pardoned.
Some of the detainees were among thousands who chanted the Arab Spring slogan “the people want the downfall of the regime” in provincial towns and the capital.
Most of the detainees were charged at the military dominated State Security Court with “unlawful gathering” and “subverting the system of government in the kingdom or inciting to resist it.”
Although the charges carry sentences of up to five years, convictions in such cases are rare.
Among the detainees are 45 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s largest opposition force, including a leader of the movement’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front.
The kingdom has had two years of mostly peaceful street protests by Islamists, tribal figures and leftist opposition members, inspired by the wave of Arab revolts demanding wider political freedoms and a crackdown on corruption.
All the demonstrators have called for reforms, but in provincial areas inhabited by native East Bank citizens used to preferential access to state jobs, the protests have been driven largely by concern over keeping such jobs and the dwindling benefits going to tribal and rural areas that support the king.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Louise Heavens