Jordanian parliament points to 'immorality' as reason for cybercrime law
Jordan's lower house of parliament passed dozens of amendments to its cybercrime law on Thursday, 27 July, despite protests by rights groups that the proposed changes would endanger free speech in the kingdom.
Members of parliament claimed that the law would be used to protect society against "immorality," saying the bill could be used as a tool to criminalise homosexuality online.
Speaker of the House Ahmed Safadi, during Thursday's session, said that "what was reported that the House of Representatives does not criminalise homosexuality and homosexuality through cyberspace is incorrect."
He added that the new amendments "criminalises pornography, breaching of public morality and sexual promotion."
Another representative, Yanal Freihat, proposed an amendment that would "combat sexual abnormality" by making it an imprisonable offence for anyone to spread any material online that supports homosexuality.
Freihat's amendment did not pass, though most of the other 41 amendments were approved after a six-hour debate.
Eleven rights bodies urged the Jordanian government not to pass the new cybercrime law, saying it would "further undermine free speech online … and introduce new authority to control social media that would pave the way for an alarming surge in online censorship."
The proposed law's language is vague, which rights groups say would give authorities broad powers to crack down on dissent.
The law would ban the use of VPNs, allow judges to throttle traffic to social media sites, criminalise online "character assassinations," and ban the internet's use to promote "immoral material."
The charge of sending, engaging in or sending "immoral material" online is particularly vague, as it could be interpreted to ban dating apps, pornography, or even material that authorities deem offensive.
On Thursday, 27 July, Jordan's Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh said that the bill would not detract from any freedoms and that the government is "completely open to any criticisms."
Hundreds of demonstrators protested against the bill in downtown Amman on Friday, calling on the Jordanian king to block the bill's passage.
Prominent satirist and playwright Ahmad Hassan al-Zoubi said that he would shut down his social media accounts and his political satire website Sawaleef in protest if the bill is passed.
"If they pass the law, I will close my accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and I'm considering closing even my website," Zoubi told The New Arab.
"I can't risk facing these steep fines if I express myself freely and a judge comes along and interprets it as 'false news' or as 'provoking unrest,'" al-Zoubi explained.
Jordan's senate, an unelected body, still needs to debate and pass the cybercrime amendments before it is signed into law.
Rights groups have noticed a steep decline in civil rights in Jordan in recent years, with Freedom House downgrading Jordan from "partially free" to "not free" in 2021.