Following the recent Jordanian Cessation Court’s decision to subject electronic websites to the Press and Publication Law, the Jordanian web has been overflowing with reactions to the court ruling which many Jordanians see as a step back for freedom of speech in the country.
Awen Al-Meshagbeh, writing for Mideast Youth, gives an example of the Jordanian governments’ treatment of an online writer, Mr. Salah Momani. Al-Meshagbeh has this to say about the governments’ various methods of censorship:
Relying on a mix of indicators such as detentions, regulations, and intimidation to crush any peaceful and generally loyal opposition, the Jordanian regime has now emerged as one of the leading online and print media oppressors in the Middle East. This is evidenced by the outright and clear violation of the fundamental principles put forward by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to measure a society’s tolerance of free speech; these principles include but are not limited to: governments’ use of filtering, monitoring, and regulation (Arab Times newspaper and its online version is an example); authorities’ use of imprisonments; and other forms of legal harassment to deter critical journalistic writing (Mr. Ahmed Al-Abbadi is another example).
Parallel to these efforts, BamBam goes over the list of things that may no longer be discussed in the Jordanian web:
Anything that goes against national responsibility
Anything that goes against Human rights
Anything the goes against islamic and arabic sensibilities
Anything that would harm the King and the royal Family
Anything concerning the Jordanian armed forces or security apparatus unless otherwise authorized
Anything ridiculing any of the religions or sects recognized by the constitution
Anything that harms the national unity and incites on committing crimes
Anything that ridicules, disses or slanders heads of Arabic, Islamic, or friendly states, or disturbs Jordanian relationships with other countries
Anything that promoted deviancy and corrupts morals
Any False information or gossips that harm public interest, Government institutions or those who work in it
Any information related to the secret session of the national council
Any non-disclosed government documents
Anything that would shake the confidence people have in the national currency
To further illustrate the gravity of the court decision, Gaith Saqer over at Arab Crunch quotes Basil Okur, one of the founders of Ammon News, a Jordan top-ten site according to Alexa as saying that “according to the court order, a publication definition is any thing published, meaning anything circulating online: forums, Tweets, blog posts and comments, Facebook wall comments and email.”
Other blogs, like La Sharaf Fil Jareemah (No Honour in Crime) which is dedicated to combating honour crimes in the country, takes part in the ongoing discussion of the new ruling by providing a list of relevant coverage of the news in myriad sources ranging from local and international news papers to news websites and blogs. Yet others only half-jokingly mock the new situation, take Kinzi for example, who writes:
Guess I’ll have to keep most of my drafts unpublished, and that the ————— ooops, can’t go there. And the —– oops, can’t go there either. I hope complaining about local driving doesn’t fall into these categories.
The general feel in the Jordanian blogosphere, however, seems to be one of defiance. Several bloggers are pushing for an active challenging of the court rule, like Razan Khatib who maintains that:
amongst other freedoms we don’t enjoy in Jordan, this is something we actually know what it tastes like, something we love so dearly, we nurture and are leaders in our region because of it. So this time around, we will not let that freedom be taken away from us so very easily!
Urdun Mubdi3 (Creative Jordan) contributor Zeid Abu-Odeh echos Khatib's sentiment, as he writes under the title “In Defence of Freedom of Speech and the Internet“:
This is a golden opportunity for us all to fight together for a decent life. Let us make our voices heard for the whole world, and preferably in Arabic so we could be taken seriously for once.
While several news websites are actively publishing stories about the new restrictive ruling, Naseem Tarawnah at The Black Iris advocates a thorough inspection of the new situation. He says in reference to recent reactions:
Some are jumping to conclusions and some are launching various campaigns, and I just feel we don’t have the right information at this point, which in itself is a problem the Jordanian government has created – but that’s nothing new.
In the meantime, Eyas Sharaiha's bilingual article on 7iber “Websites and Publication Law“ is an attempt at analysing the possible ramifications of said law. Sharaiha holds that:
Extending anti-defamation laws to the internet is natural, and does happen in European countries and the United States (albeit with minor stipulations). It is based on the simple expectation that what you do in the “cyber world” is entailed by what you do in the “real world”.
Reserving individuals’ rights for protection against false claims and attacks on reputation in the internet is highly important. However, such protection of rights should not be done in the frame of media, press, and publication legislation, as that would hinder the openness of the web as we know it.
The article has generated quite a flurry of responses, many discussing the nature of censorship and others differing on what can be considered defamation under the Jordanian Press and Publication Law, and which now extends to websites and electronic media more generally. If the responses generated on 7iber and other Jordanian websites are anything to judge by, this is one discussion that won't die down quickly.
Interestingly, the court's decision corresponded with Freedom House‘s publication of its Freedom in the World 2010 report in which Jordan was downgraded from Partly Free to Not Free. Jordanian bloggers have not missed the opportunity to comment on the ironic correspondence, and MommaBean concludes “after all, without a voice, without a presence, without a dialog, where does that leave this wonderful, vibrant country of ours? Apparently it leaves us sad, silenced, and lacking critical reasoning.”