When Jordan’s King Abdullah II recently passed the country’s new cybercrime law, Hisham, who is reluctant to reveal his real name for fear of reprisals, felt like commenting on social media.

However, given the dramatically increased penalties for online criticism, the queer activist decided not to share his concerns online, he told DW.

The new law, which criminalizes online content that authorities view as false news, hate speech, undermining national unity or inciting immorality, is the latest addition to what observers and human rights activists have described as a growing crackdown on free speech in the United States look at Jordan.

For Jordan, which was classified as not free by the US pro-democracy initiative Freedom House earlier this year, the new law could effectively mean an end to free expression of opinion on the Internet.

“It is of particular concern that the wording of the new cybercrime law is so vague,” Lorena Stella Martini, Jordan researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told DW, adding that “some of its articles are open to interpretation and instrumental are.” applied to a wide variety of cases.”

However, Jordan’s prime minister Hirer al-Khasawneh defended the bill at a parliamentary session in July. Noting the six-fold increase in online crimes in the country “in which privacy was violated and online extortion fueled social tensions,” he reiterated the need for a stricter version of the existing 2015 Cybercrime Act.

Professor Bernhard Maier, Visiting Professor of Cyber ​​Law at King’s College London, sees “another example of the fragmentation of the Internet and the formation of artificial, real borders in cyberspace” in the “increased application of cybercrime laws around the world”. he told DW.

Reporting on the strike against rising fuel prices was banned in Jordan last December. Photo: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP

The Cybercrime Act affects minorities

In July, a total of 14 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Access Now, Article 19 and the Gulf Center for Human Rights, issued an open letter urging the Jordanian king to review the bill, saying it “further undermines freedom of expression online and… Internet users will be threatened.” “Right to anonymity and introduction of new powers to control social media that would pave the way for an alarming rise in online censorship.”

These organizations, as well as other observers, are particularly concerned about Articles 12, 13 and 14.

Article 12 bans the use of virtual private networks (VPN) for “criminal purposes” and the untraceable Internet browser Tor. Both tools are used worldwide by dissidents and minorities such as the queer community, as these technologies ensure anonymous communication channels on the Internet.

“This effectively forces individuals to choose between preserving their identity and freedom of expression,” Rasha Younes, senior researcher for the LGBTQ rights program at Human Rights Watch, told DW.

Articles 13 and 14 punish the production, distribution or consumption of “pornographic content” and content that “incites, supports or encourages immorality” with a minimum sentence of six months imprisonment and heavy fines.

“The new law effectively criminalizes the online activities of Jordan’s LGBTQ community, with far-reaching implications for offline life at large,” added ECFR’s Lorena Martini.

Criticism also came from Jordan’s closest international ally, the United States. “This law, with its vague definitions and concepts, could undermine Jordan’s own economic and political reform efforts,” US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel warned in July.

In mid-August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also pointed out that countries must take action to fight cybercrime, but protecting online safety and ensuring online freedoms must be treated as complementary goals.

“Our concern about the law is all the greater given the increasing intimidation, harassment and arrests of activists as the civic space in Jordan continues to shrink,” spokeswoman Liz Throssell said in a statement.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II passed the draconian cybercrime law in record time. Image: Hannibal Hanschke/AFP/Getty Images

The Cybercrime Act has been rushing from bill to bill

However, neither the Jordanian parliament nor the Jordanian king called for a public debate and the law was passed in the record time of less than two months.

“The fact that there was no space for a public debate about this law really shows where things are headed when it comes to freedom of expression in the country,” Martini told DW.

This view is shared by Edmund Ratka, head of the foundation office of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Jordan. “No one knows why the law was enforced at such short notice and without dialogue with civil society,” he told DW.

However, he thinks most parts of the law are “perfectly reasonable, as they solidly spell out the actions and penalties for hacking, image theft, extortion, hate speech or fraud on the internet.”

However, he sees other problems beyond the implications of Articles 12, 13 and 14. He worries that under the new law, a person will not only be responsible for their posts on social media, but also for the comments of others in response to them.

“Also, prosecutors can file charges without first filing a complaint,” says Ratka, adding, “This may be a tool the state can use to take action against unwelcome critics, but so far no one knows if the state will do so.” “actually do that.”

Positive coverage such as the royal wedding of Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein and Rajwa Al Saif in early June would not be restricted by the new cybercrime law. Image: Royal Hashemite Court/REUTERS

Jordan’s contradictory urges for inclusion

Jordan has made efforts over the past two years to involve more young people in the political process. To this end, a new electoral law and a new party law were introduced.

“It is paradoxical to think that young people in particular can be motivated to participate in political life while restricting freedom of expression on online networks and social media,” Ratka said.

He sees the upcoming Jordanian parliamentary elections in 2025 as a “litmus test for the political recovery in Jordan”.

“If not revised, the Cybercrime Act could prove to be an own goal, since election campaigns are also conducted online and it is not yet foreseeable whether the Cybercrime Act will also make it more difficult to campaign online,” said Ratka.

Edited by: Rob Mudge

Media freedom is under threat worldwide

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Source : www.dw.com

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