HRW asks Jordan to commit to stop imprisoning people who cannot pay debts


The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked Jordan this Sunday to commit to ending the imprisonment of people who cannot pay their debts and has recalled that this is an action prohibited by International Law.

“Jordan is one of the few countries in the world that still allows people to be imprisoned for debts. As of April 1, at least 148,000 people are wanted to serve prison sentences for unpaid debts, according to the Ministry of Justice,” stressed the organization in a statement.

According to HRW, thousands of Jordanians request loans to cover basic needs such as rent, food or medical treatment, only to end up in prison or wanted for not being able to pay. “Jordan should end this type of imprisonment without delay,” said HRW Middle East researcher Sara Kayyali.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the economic and sociopolitical challenges facing Jordan. On March 28, 2021, in response to pressure to end imprisonment for debts, Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh issued a moratorium on arresting people solely for non-payment of debts. The moratorium ends in June, according to HRW.

Although several legislative instruments can lead to prison sentences for debts, including the Penal Code and the Law of Execution, as indicated by the organization.

In October 2021, the Ministry of Justice presented a reform project to what is known as the Execution Law, which was approved by the Lower House on April 28.

The draft amended Enforcement Law prohibits imprisonment for debts of any amount less than 5,000 Dinars (6,685 euros) and limits prison time to 60 days per debt, not to exceed 120 days in total.

It also establishes conditions under which prison for debts is not allowed, even if the person is bankrupt or insolvent, or has sufficient funds to pay off the debt that authorities can seize, HRW has reported.

Even so, the organization finds it insufficient and argues that most countries have abolished prison for debts, not only because it violates International Human Rights Law, but also because “it does not facilitate the payment of debt.”

Instead, countries have put in place personal insolvency and bankruptcy laws that provide alternatives to detention and have established measured plans for repayment of loans.

“Instead of this piecemeal approach that serves no one, the government has an opportunity to put things right by abolishing debt imprisonment altogether and fully adopting tried and true alternatives,” Kayyali said.

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