Reporters Without Borders is worried by a provisional cyber crimes law that the government decreed on 3 August and calls for its repeal. By establishing a legal framework for news and information websites and specifying sanctions for violators, it has created a legislative arsenal that can be used to regulate the Internet and punish those whose posts upset the authorities.
The penalties, which range from fines to forced labour, depend on the content posted. The authorities have invoked the need to defend the public interest and regulate the online “chaos” but website owners and online journalists regard the law as a threat to the freedom of the media and communications.
“The lack of detail in certain of the new law’s provisions, the vague concepts used to define offences and the disproportionate penalties open the door to restrictive and arbitrary interpretation that will restrict freedom of expression and information,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Article 3 of the law stipulates that the authorities must be notified of what is posted online line but it does not say how or where they should be notified. Failure to comply with this article is punishable by a fine.
The law also establishes a range of sanctions for online content that is deemed to defame or to violate public decency or national security. The penalties for violating public decency are likely to restrict freedom of information by being applied to innocuous content. Articles 9, 10 and 11 are supposed to target content that is immoral or pornographic or content that promotes prostitution or terrorism. The sanctions range from fines of 300 to 5,000 dinars (316 to 5,265 euros) to jail sentences of 3 months to 1 year, with the possibility of forced labour.
Other articles are just as disturbing. Article 8 stipulates that the posting of any defamatory or insulting comment is publishable by fines ranging from 100 to 2,000 dinars (105 to 2,100 euros). Journalists fear that this will result in more defamation prosecutions and will complicate the work of reporting.
Article 12 says that the posting of hitherto unpublished information affecting Jordan’s national security, foreign relations, public order or economy is punishable by a fine of 500 to 5,000 dinars (527 to 5,265 euros) and a minimum of four months in prison. This ban on posting confidential information will necessarily limit freedom of information. This government attempt to limit coverage of sensitive issues poses a major threat to investigative journalism.
Article 13 gives the attorney-general unlimited power to issue the police with a warrant to search the home of anyone suspected of violating this law. It also authorises police officers to carry out a search on their own initiative by referring to the attorney-general. These provisions violate article 10 of the 1952 constitution, which guarantees the inviolability of the home.
All these provisions reflect a government desire to control all online information. Access to more than 100 news and information websites has meanwhile just been blocked for civil servants using government computers.