More than 300 Jordanians braved heavy rains to protest against economic policy and alleged corruption in Amman on Thursday evening, as a youth-led protest movement entered its fourth week.
Unappeased by a recent high-profile corruption arrest, protesters gathered near the country’s prime ministry to chant: “We know who the real corrupt are."
A similar demonstration last week ended in arrests after clashes with security forces, but Thursday's protest remained calm under the watchful eye of hundreds of riot gear-clad police.
Protesters directed their anger at Prime Minister Omar Razzaz, who was appointed in late June to take part in economic reform, changing “Razzaz we are fed up, you are meeting us with taxes not reforms”.
“We are here simply to express our refusal of the wrong economic policies pushed by the IMF that we are now feeling the harmful effects of,” said Ibrahim Qassem, 25, who came from outside Amman to take part in the protest.
“We agree that you have to take down those who are corrupt, but we know it’s more than just one person. We want those within the system who enabled this corruption to go on for years to be held accountable,” Mr Qassem said.
Driving Jordan’s renewed protests is a series of unpopular austerity measures, which include lowering the threshold for taxable income, while unemployment stands at 18.6 per cent, rising to over 40 per cent of those under 30.
Thursday’s protests followed the arrest of 18 participants in last week’s demonstration during clashes that injured several policemen and protesters.
In response to criticism of a heavy-handed response by security forces, the government said it “does not seek to silence or place restrictions on citizens, it only seeks to monitor citizens’ demands, analyse them and respond to them if possible.”
The Jordanian National Centre for Human Rights contended however that the arrests “represent a violation of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”
Late Thursday, lawyers representing the arrested protesters announced that seven of the 18 had been released on bail. Demonstrators chanted for the release of the remaining activists, carrying banners reading “your arrests will not intimidate us”.
“They have tried to arrest us and depict us as outlaws, but we know and citizens know that we are average people fed up with the lies,” said one female protester who asked to withhold her name out of fear of retribution.
On Tuesday, Jordan announced the extradition and arrest of Awni Muttee, a businessman at the centre of a counterfeit cigarette ring believed to have cost the government $200 million in lost taxes, touted by the government as proof of its war on graft.
But protesters vowed to continue demanding structural changes.
“We are going to continue our protest until we see a change in economic policies and high up officials in court – not just middle men,” said Mohammed, a 30-year-old protester from southern Jordan.