In Jordan, proposed amendments to censor Internet

New York, August 31, 2012–Proposed legislation in Jordan would impose significant new restrictions on online news content and reader comments while giving authorities new powers to block domestic and international websites. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the lower house of parliament to reject the bill when it takes up debate on Sunday.

“If passed, these amendments would represent a huge step backward in Jordan’s press freedom record,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Jordan would be joining a list of authoritarian countries that use Internet censorship as a form of media repression.”

The measure would apply the restrictions in Jordan’s existing Press and Publications Law to online media. Those include prohibitions on insulting the royal family, publishing anything counter to “national obligation” and “Arab-Islamic values,” inciting sectarian strife or stirring discord or violence, and slandering any public officials or foreign heads of states.

The proposal, which comes as an amendment to the 1998 Press and Publications Law, would require every online media outlet to register with the government and obtain an official license, similar to print publications, according to news reports. The legislation would also grant the government the right to block any website in violation of the law, including non-Jordanian websites, without a court order, the reports said.

Under the proposed amendments, electronic media owners and their employees would be responsible for ensuring that all comments published by their readers do not violate any laws, according to news reports. They would further be required to maintain a record of all comments posted on their site for at least six months, the reports said. The amendments also prohibit the posting of any comments not related to the published article.

If a website is found in violation of posting a comment not in accordance with the proposed regulations, it could face fines of up to 10,000 Jordanian dinars (US$14,000), news reports said.

The Jordanian government approved a draft of the bill on August 22, according to news reports. If the lower house passes the legislation, it will go to the upper house for review.

Journalists and media activists protested in front of parliament against the proposed amendments on Wednesday, news reports said. On the same day, the reports said, at least 500 websites featured a black home page with the following message: “You may be denied access to the content of this website under amendments to the Press and Publications Law as a result of government control over the Internet.”

Many analysts say that Jordan has maintained free and open access to the Internet, a policy that stands in contrast to other countries in the region.

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