The Jordanian government has declared a state of emergency as part of a series of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 17, 2020, Jordan’s King Abdullah II issued a royal decree activating a 1992 law that grants the prime minister sweeping powers to curtail basic rights, but Prime Minister Omar Razzaz pledged to carry it out to the “narrowest extent” and stated that it would not impinge political rights, freedom of expression, or private property.

According to the Health Ministry, Jordan had only recorded 69 COVID-19 cases by March 19, but the government had already imposed a series of pre-emptive restrictions. It closed the kingdom’s land and air borders, took over 34 hotels to convert them into quarantine centers, banned crowds of 10 people or more, and closed public and private businesses and offices, with exceptions for health and essential services. The government did not impose a curfew but urged people not to leave their homes except in emergencies and to meet basic needs.

“Jordanian authorities should stick by their commitment not to abridge basic rights under the state of emergency and to ensure that all measures taken are necessary and proportional to the threat posed by the pandemic,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, “The test of every nation is how it treats its citizens in times of crisis.”

Under the Defense Law of 1992, the prime minister may declare a state of emergency in response to exceptional circumstances that threaten national security or public safety, including a pandemic. The law gives the prime minister the authority to suspend certain rights, including restrictions on freedom of expression and movement, and does not appear to have time limits.