Authorities block hundreds of websites in Jordan

New York, June 3, 2013–The Jordanian government announced plans on Sunday to block more than 300 websites for failing to register under the Press and Publications Law, news sources reported. Access to several of the sites has already been blocked within the country, the reports said.

The Jordanian Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) on Sunday ordered local Internet service providers (ISPs) to block websites that did not have licenses. The order originated from a memo by Fayez al-Shawabkeh, head of the government’s Department of Press and Publications, on Saturday.

“Censoring 300 websites makes Jordan’s talk of political reform seem hollow,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Authorities should immediately rescind this order and uphold King Abdullah’s stated support for political reform and media freedom.”

It is not clear to what extent the ISPs have followed the government’s orders. The news website Al-Bawaba reported on Sunday that several websites had already been blocked, but that its site, which is also on the list, remained accessible.

As each ISP responds individually to the government’s orders, some websites will be blocked for some users but remain available to others. The government’s memo did not list specific URLs for many of the websites.

The memo cited Article 49 of Jordan’s Press and Publications Law, which was amended amid considerable debate last year to require local and international websites to register with the government, placing them under the same strict regulations as print publications. Websites were given a deadline of January 17 to comply, news sources reported.

“The idea of licensing news websites is contrary to the Jordanian constitution, international commitments, and public statements by the King and government,” said Daoud Kuttab, founder of AmmanNet and a recipient of CPJ’s 1996 International Press Freedom Award. AmmanNet is one of the sites listed in the memo. “It’s also a punishment to the Jordanian public, because they are blocking these sites only in Jordan while the rest of the world can see the contents of these websites,” Kuttab said.

The information minister, Mohammed Momani, said that media regulation aimed to enhance “professionalism and credibility” as a “key component of Jordan’s political reform efforts,” The Associated Press reported today. CPJ has called the amendments “a huge step backward in Jordan’s press freedom record.”

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