Amnesty International accused Jordanian authorities on Wednesday of imprisoning women for disobeying their male guardians or having relationships outside marriage.

The rights watchdog said Jordanian women accused of leaving home without permission or having sex with men who are not their husbands risk imprisonment and "humiliating virginity tests" if male family members complain to authorities.

Manal Ibrahim, director of the "Dar Amneh" safe house for women threatened with violence, talks to AFP in the Jordanian capital Amman, on October 22, 2019
Manal Ibrahim, director of the "Dar Amneh" safe house for women threatened with violence, talks to AFP in the Jordanian capital Amman, on October 22, 2019 AFP / Khalil MAZRAAWI

Pregnant unmarried women also face "forcible separation from their newborn children," the NGO said in a report.

Amnesty called on Amman to "urgently address these shameful violations... starting with the zealous use of detention powers by provincial governors, and the discriminatory male guardianship system."

At a press conference in Amman, Amnesty's Middle East director Heba Morayef urged the government to reform the law to allow women to "make free decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives, rather than being criminalised."

Manal Ibrahim, director of the "Dar Amneh" safe house for women threatened with violence, takes a walk in the shelter's garden in the Jordanian capital Amman, on October 22, 2019
Manal Ibrahim, director of the "Dar Amneh" safe house for women threatened with violence, takes a walk in the shelter's garden in the Jordanian capital Amman, on October 22, 2019 AFP / Khalil MAZRAAWI

Amnesty recognised recent government action against gender-based violence, including the opening of a women's shelter, but said "the time has now come to end the detention and ill-treatment of women".

The safe house in Amman, known as Dar Amneh, offers social workers, psychiatrists and legal advisers to help women, some of whom suffer from psychological problems.

Director Manel Ibrahim told AFP that since opening in July 2018, the safe house had welcomed "86 cases transferred by provincial governors," of which 64 had been "rehabilitated" back to their families.

A picture taken on October 22, 2019, shows a commemorative plaque at the entrance of the "Dar Amneh" safe house for women threatened with violence, including crimes of honor, in the Jordanian capital Amman
A picture taken on October 22, 2019, shows a commemorative plaque at the entrance of the "Dar Amneh" safe house for women threatened with violence, including crimes of honor, in the Jordanian capital Amman AFP / Khalil MAZRAAWI

Family members are also invited to the rehabilitation programme and the centre works to reconcile the women with their families, she added.

The Jordanian government told Amnesty that 85 women had been placed in administrative detention in 2019 for "relations outside marriage".

In total, 149 women were in administrative detention, but authorities denied that women were detained for "absence" from their homes.

But Amnesty said in February it met 22 women who were detained "without charge or trial" in Juweideh prison for "absence" from the home or relations outside marriage.

Many of the women, who were waiting for a male relative to bail them out, said they had fled "abusive and violent family environments".

One woman interviewed by Amnesty said she had been jailed after her father complained to authorities that she had run away with a man. In fact, Amnesty said, she had run away to escape her father's abuse.

Four women said they were detained after hospital staff called police because they were pregnant outside of marriage, Amnesty said.

According to Jordanian law, women under 30 need consent from a male guardian to get married, and sexual relations outside marriage are punishable by three years imprisonment.