Jordan to review 'extremely worrying' cybercrimes law

Jordan to review 'extremely worrying' cybercrimes law
Amendments to a cybercrimes law submitted to the Jordanian parliament will be withdrawn, following concern it would suppress freedom of expression.
3 min read
10 December, 2018
The bill includes criminalising the sharing of articles deemed libellous [Getty]
Amendments to a cybercrimes law submitted to Jordan's parliament will be withdrawn, local media reported on Sunday, following concern over the limitations it will have on freedom of expression.

The proposed bill was set to quash online criticism of the government, activists claimed, blocking yet another outlet to voice their frustration over tax policies and a crippling economy.

Amendments to the law will be reviewed after the government consults with civil society representatives, the state news agency Petra reported, citing the government spokesman Jumana Ghunaimat.

"The government will study again the draft law before redrafting it in light of existing laws," Ghunaimat said.

The proposed amendments, which were first submitted in 2017, pushed to turn hate speech into a criminal offence, punishable with a maximum three-year prison sentence as well as a fine of up to $14,000.

The drafted bill failed to give a precise definition of was concerned hate speech, providing only a broad one that read: "Any statement or act that would incite discord, religious, sectarian, racial or ethnic strife or discrimination between individuals or groups."

The amendments also include criminalising the sharing of defamatory articles.

Activists and rights group warned that such vague definitions could include statements protected under the right to freedom of speech.

While some digital platforms are guilty of embezzlement at times and the government is right to work to stop that, they should not amend the law to criminalise everyone or block an outlet for public frustration.

Authorities seek these amendments to shut down an outlet for public frustration, Ali Kassay, communications consultant at Jordan-based ACE House told The New Arab.

"Seriously, why are electronic crimes such a priority for the government? Are they really a national problem?" Kassay said.

"Certain public figures feel defensive when people complain about corruption. People are frustrated with being overtaxed and underpaid, and they feel this law intends to penalise them if they dare to complain about corruption."

"While some digital platforms are guilty of embezzlement at times and the government is right to work to stop that, they should not amend the law to criminalise everyone or block an outlet for public frustration."

"Overall, the government's message in relation to the law is: Thou shalt believe only information released by the government and thou shalt shun all other news."

Last month, Amnesty International issued a statement referring to the proposed changes as a devastating blow to freedom of expression in the country.

"The proposed changes to Jordan's already flawed cybercrimes law are extremely worrying," Heba Morayef, Amnesty's International MENA director said in a statement.

"Instead of taking steps to protect people's rights online the authorities appear to be moving backwards, introducing changes that would further suppress freedom of expression."

Morayef urged Amman to revise already existing cybercrime laws.

"The Jordanian authorities should be working to eliminate all repressive elements from the current cybercrimes law to bring it in line with international law, not expanding them to further restrict people's online activities," she said.

"Jordan's authorities have an appalling track record when it comes to silencing critics both on and offline," Morayef said.

"The Jordanian authorities must repeal all laws that criminalise the exercise of the right to freedom of expression."