Jordanian police
Jordanian police AFP file

A Jordanian military prosecutor on Wednesday charged five university students with incitement for allegedly desecrating the Koran and engaging in "devil worship."

"A state security court prosecutor charged the five students today with doctrinal and sectarian incitement," a court official told AFP without elaborating.

The students face up to three years in jail if convicted, under Jordanian law.

The decision came after Human Rights Watch urged Jordan to charge or release the five students from Al Al-Bayt University in northeast Jordan detained earlier this month.

The students, who deny the accusations against them, were assaulted by a crowd of other students prior to their arrest on March 12, the rights watchdog said on its website.

"Jordanian authorities should release the five students and take steps to protect them from further attack," said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

"The authorities should hold to account anyone who joined in this witch hunt and committed acts of violence. They should not be allowed to walk free while their victims are locked up."

Other students alleged the five ripped and burned a manuscript of the Muslim holy book and threw it in the toilet while performing a "religious ritual," according to AFP.

HRW quoted their relatives as saying no evidence of criminal behavior has been presented to the detained students.

"Authorities should also investigate reported remarks, including by a well-known Salafist sheikh, advocating the students' deaths and prosecute anyone whose language amounted to direct incitement to murder," it said.

These remarks "have led to other calls for the students to be killed in messages posted on Facebook... prompting fears for their safety and doubts about whether they will be able to complete their university studies in Jordan," it added.