Category: Press Releases, MENA, Jordan
By: Sasu Siegelbaum, IPI Contributor

Jordanian authorities block more than 200 Internet news websites

IPI reminds Jordan that censorship is a violation of country’s constitution

By: Sasu Siegelbaum, IPI Contributor

VIENNA, June 2, 2013—Jordanian authorities ordered the country’s internet services providers (ISPs) to block access to more than 200 websites on Sunday, according to the news website Al Bawaba. The decision comes just two weeks after IPI’s World Congress, which was held in Amman May 19-21.

The International Press Institute (IPI) condemned the blockage of internet news websites and urged Jordanian authorities to guarantee the public’s free access to information.

“The recent blockages to news websites in Jordan, as well as the tightening restrictions on social media commentary are an enormous blow to freedom of expression and threaten the public’s access to important information” IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said.

“We encourage authorities in Jordan and elsewhere to find alternatives to ensuring the quality of content that do not jeopardize international or domestic agreements, or restrict free access to information,” he added.

Jordan’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) issued the orders stating that the sites “did not comply with a recently introduced change to the state’s press and publications law.” According to local reports, Jordan’s Head of the Press and Publications Department, Fayez Al Shawabkah, sent a warning letter to the TRC on Sunday.

Al Shawabkah said in the letter that the decision was, “Based on Article (49), Paragraph (G) of the Press and Publications Law number (8) for the year 1988 and its amendments,” adding that the blockages were intended to enhance the rule of law in the country “without restricting freedom of expression.”

Last year, the Jordanian parliament signed a new law requiring all news websites to be legally registered. The law also requires editors-in-chief of news website to be members of the Jordan Press Association and holds them responsible for reader comments on their websites, two practices that IPI has often criticized.

Some of the blocked websites include: Al Jazeera, Time Out magazine, the site of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, and AmmanNet, one of the country’s pioneer websites, which was founded by newly-elected IPI Executive Board member, Daoud Kuttab

Kuttab, who was elected to IPI’s executive committee at its 62nd World Congress held in Amman, said that the decision violates Jordan’s local, regional and international commitments.

“This is a violation of Jordan’s constitution which guarantees freedom of expression, Jordan’s commitment to international conventions and a reneging on the promises made by the Jordanian Prime Minister to Jordanian media and in his address to the IPI congress,” he said in a statement.

“This decision is a huge blow to freedom of expression in Jordan and will further compromise press freedom status,” Kuttab added.

Addressing the participants of the IPI World Congress in Amman on May 20, Jordan’s Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah Ensour stated, “As part of our ongoing political reform process, Jordan has introduced new tools to further guarantee rights and freedoms, including media freedom. The recently established Constitutional Court, derived from the new constitutional amendments, guarantees that laws regulating rights and freedoms, including media freedom, shall not affect the essence of these rights or their fundamentals.”

Jordan’s decision appears to be part of a crackdown on social media and internet websites in several Middle-Eastern countries following the Arab Spring.

The Associated Press reported last week that the Qatari government backed a new set of Internet codes that would increase control on news websites and online commentary. If implemented, Qatar’s newly introduced measures would give authorities wider discretion to punish websites or social media users for any content they consider threatening to “state security” or the “general order.” It would also outlaw any news, videos or other posts that violate the “sanctity” of a person’s private life.

Other Gulf nations, including Yemen, have sharply increased arrests over social media posts in an effort to avoid public criticism of regimes. Stronger media laws have also been approved as officials worry about growing opposition linked to the Arab Spring.

A list of nearly 200 of the banned sites in Jordan, as reported by Al Bawaba, can be viewed here.