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Human rights group. Jordan’s debt jails violate human rights law

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – Summer Crayh had a good job at a bank in the Jordanian city of Amman and decided to start his own business by importing hybrid cars in 2017. But a year later, the Jordanian government raised taxes and went on strike. The 45-year-old father of 45 children was forced by his car dealers to stop his business for a year.

He was in big debt, he could not pay the rent for his business. In most countries it will be quite difficult. But after filing a lawsuit against his landlord, Kraich was jailed for nine months.

“How can I pay my debts inside prison?” In one of the interviews, Kraih asked. “I intend to pay my debts, but inside the prison I am powerless.”

Hundreds of thousands of Jordanians like Qraih have been jailed for debt obligations in violation of international human rights law, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday.

A New York-based human rights group has found that more than 250,000 Jordanians are facing possible imprisonment for paying off debts, and about 16% of the country’s prison population has been blocked for non-payment of debts in 2019.

The coronavirus epidemic has hit the Jordanian economy, which is projected to shrink by 5.5% in 2020, while poverty is projected to rise by 11%, according to the World Bank. The recovery process is expected to be slow.

Jordan’s economic woes and “inadequate social security network have forced thousands of families to take money for food, housing, medical expenses and other necessities of life,” Human Rights Watch said in a report.

“Jordan cannot guarantee an adequate standard of living for its citizens, it does not have a functioning social security system,” the report said.

People who fail to repay the debt could face up to 90 days in prison and up to one year in prison for a withdrawn check, the report said. From 2015 to 2019, the number of Jordanians wanted for debts increased tenfold.

The organization called for legal reform to ensure poorer, more effective bankruptcy legislation. Most countries outside the Middle East have abolished debt relief, the group says.

“Debt imprisonment is aimed at those who are unable to pay, helping to create endless debt cycles,” the report said.

Since his release, Qraih has returned to selling cars and rebuilding his life.

“I work from early morning until the end of the day, I pay the landlord,” he said. “But I am still threatened, he can send me to jail at any time.”

The Jordanian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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