Jordanian security forces arrested leading members of the opposition-run teachers union on Saturday, raided its offices and shut it down for two years, escalating a confrontation with a group that has become a leading source of dissent.
Prosecutors charged Nasser Nawasreh, the acting head of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate, with incitement over a speech to supporters last Wednesday that criticized Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz’s government. State media said other charges related to allegations of financial and administrative wrongdoing.
Riot police reinforcements were deployed on Saturday near the seat of government in the capital and in other areas where teacher activists were planning protests. Security forces raided the union’s headquarters in the city of Karak.
Political opposition is often marginalized in Jordan, but protests have grown in recent years over eroding living standards, corruption, and the slow pace of political reforms.
Saturday’s crackdown on the union would “only further aggravate political tensions by the government at a time people are choked under hard economic conditions,” said Murad Adailah, head of Islamic Action Front, the largest opposition party.
The 100,000-strong union went on strike last year, shutting down schools across Jordan for a month in one of the longest and most disruptive public sector strikes in the country’s history. In recent weeks its leadership has accused the government of failing to honor a deal signed last October that ended the strike.
The deal included a 50% pay rise this year, which the government now says is unaffordable because of the economic blow from the coronavirus crisis.
Some officials have also accused union leaders of harboring the Islamist opposition’s political agenda. The union says this accusation is part of a government smear campaign.
Opposition politicians say the government has been using draconian emergency laws enacted last March at the start of the coronavirus lockdown to limit civil and political rights. Activists have been arrested in recent weeks over comments on social media.