Dealing with suicide is becoming a political issue in Jordan

Public suicide attempts criminalized as their use for protest montages

Jordanian authorities are struggling to cope with a rise in suicides and attempted suicides as unemployment continues to plague a country with few natural resources.

Both houses of Jordan’s parliament have approved a controversial amendment to the Penal Code that will allow judges to imprison people who attempt suicide in a public place. Jordanian officials believe most suicide attempts are public displays of protest rather than genuine efforts to end one’s life.

The Senate approved the bill on Tuesday after strong advocacy by Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh, who argued that the country has an obligation to protect the lives of its citizens. It has already been approved by the House of Representatives.

“Jordan’s official religion is Islam and all heavenly religions reject suicide or any attempt to commit suicide,” Khasawneh said.

Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Oman all have similar laws, the prime minister said.

Khasawneh said normally a judge would order a psychological examination and, if satisfied the person has mental issues, he is allowed to reduce the sentence.

The Prime Minister insisted that most suicide attempts are not serious.

“Experts say that serious suicide attempts are shrouded in secrecy, which is the opposite of someone trying to do it in a public place with the clear purpose of wanting to draw attention to a particular case,” he said. he declared.

The official religion of Jordan is Islam and all heavenly religions reject suicide or any attempt to commit suicide

Jordanian Justice Minister Ahmad Ziadat said the amendment to the Penal Code to criminalize attempted suicide in a public place is designed to protect both society and the person who attempts suicide.

Ziadat told the Senate on Tuesday that attempting suicide in a private home is not punishable under the amendment because it is difficult to know and it does not harm society. The minister added that the prison sentence can be replaced, according to Jordanian law, by paying 5 JD ($7.04) for each day of the sentence imposed by the judge.

But Senator Rajai Muasher, a former deputy prime minister, called on the government to replace the prison sentence with alternative sentences.

The lower house voted in April to “imprison anyone who attempts suicide in a public place for up to six months.” The penalty was to be doubled if the offense was a “collective decision”.

Abdallah Rawhneh, an unemployed youth from Madaba governorate, told Media Line that the amendment is an attempt to silence protesters so desperate they have to threaten suicide to get people to pay attention to their plight.

In 2021, 167 Jordanians – 125 men and 42 women – committed suicide, according to a report by Dr Raed Momani of the National Center for Forensic Medicine (NCFM). The independent daily Al Ghad reported that among them were 23 young people – 13 girls and 10 boys – aged between 12 and 17.

Suicide was committed mainly by hanging (93), self-immolation (20), jumping from a high place (19), shooting (18) or using pesticides (16).

Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economics and Computing Studies, told The Media Line that amending the Penal Code is another tool for the government to restrict worker protests.

A person threatening suicide needs social and psychological treatment, not imprisonment, he said. The government is trying to prevent protests as the economy deteriorates, he added.

According to the April 20 Jordanian Worker’s Monitor overseen by Awad: “In 2021, Jordan witnessed 225 protest actions, 13% of which were from unemployed people. The report also noted that, during the same period, four of the protests (about 2%) included suicide threats.

Protests have centered on extremely harsh living conditions and low incomes, largely exacerbated by lockdowns and other negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Defense orders issued by the Jordanian government allowed employers to deduct up to 30-50% of workers’ wages while ordering employers not to fire anyone.

In a live broadcast on social media, unemployed workers from Madaba threatened to commit suicide. In Karak, an unemployed man threatened to commit suicide on November 24 by falling from the historic Karak Castle.

Sociology professor Hussein al Khozahe told The Media Line that this amendment is “hasty and dangerous” and will have bad social and economic effects on society without solving the root problem. “Throwing people who attempt suicide in prison will allow them to meet real criminals and, once released, they will be more likely to commit crimes,” he said.

On average, there are five suicide attempts for every successful suicide, “meaning we have about a thousand suicide attempts a year. But the prisons are already 140% overcrowded,” Khozahe added.

Suicides and suicide attempts are on the rise, he noted. “In 2011 there were 39 suicides and 200 attempts while in 2021 there were 176 suicides and 493 attempts in public. This increase needs to be investigated. The professor suggested painting Amman’s Wadi Abdoun Bridge green after the success of a similar painting of Blackfriars Bridge in London, which had witnessed a high number of suicides and saw numbers drop after the change of color.

The group most at risk under the Penal Code amendment are married people, because if they go to jail it will contribute to further disintegration of the family and society will pay the price, Khozahe said. Raed Hadid, former head of the National Center for Forensic Medicine, said the criminalization of attempted suicide was meant to draw attention to the issue.

“We have to tackle the causes of this phenomenon so as not to add punishment,” he said.

Hadid said he would have preferred mandatory psychological treatment rather than jail time in such cases.

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