Proposed cybercrime law would deal new blow to press freedom in Jordan
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges Jordan’s parliament to reject the draconian, government-backed cybercrime bill that it has been discussing since 15 July, which would probably impact journalists’ work negatively and restrict their freedom to report the news.
The proposed law criminalises use of the Internet by any person, including journalists, to disseminate “false news,” commit acts of “defamation” (article 15) or cause “damage to reputation” (article 16) or “to national unity” (article 17). The penalties include fines ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 Jordanian dinars (25,000 to 63,000 euros) and up to three years in prison.
“This bill is symptomatic of the serious decline in press freedom in Jordan. With its imprecise language and punitive approach, it allows prosecutors to exercise tighter control over online media and encourages self-censorship. We urge the Jordanian parliament to reject this proposed law, which should be replaced by one that protects the public’s right to be informed and does not threaten press freedom.”
Ever since a cybercrime law was proposed for the first time in 2015 it has been alarming press freedom defenders in Jordan and has been rejected until now. The proposed law has undergone several changes in recent years but the version that has just been submitted to parliament is much more draconian.
Under article 17, in particular, using “the Internet or social networks to publish anything that may stir up conflict, [...] undermine national unity, incite hatred, call for or justify violence, or express contempt for religions” would be punishable by a heavy fine and between one and three years in prison. This article is open to the broadest of interpretations and could therefore easily be used against journalists.
In a statement published on 16 July, the Jordanian Journalists’ Syndicate called for a radical overhaul of this cybercrime bill and rejected “any attack on press freedom.” Government spokesman Faisal al-Shaboul said Jordan’s media laws protect journalists but, in reality, the work of the media and journalists is already subject to a great deal of obstruction by the laws regulating the media in Jordan, especially the press and publications law, the broadcast media law and the freedom of information law (one of the region’s first).
Censorship and gag orders
This bill has come at a time of growing concern about the press freedom climate. The Hashemite Kingdom fell 26 places (from 120th to 146th) in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index, one of the region’s biggest falls. Censorship and gag orders have increased in recent months. On 6 July, the authorities arbitrarily blocked access to Al-Hudood, a very popular satirical website founded in 2013. No official reason was given, but the site had just provided extensive coverage of Crown Prince Hussein’s wedding.
Five publication bans were issued by the Jordanian authorities in 2022 to suppress reporting on murders and corruption scandals. They included an order issued by the attorney-general on 23 June 2022 banning journalists from covering a female university student’s murder. Three months later, the attorney-general banned coverage of the “Al-Hawatmeh Leaks” case, involving