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Appeal to Defend Freedoms of Expression and the Press in Jordan

[Jordanian flag on display in Amman. Image by marc's pics&photos via Flickr.] [Jordanian flag on display in Amman. Image by marc's pics&photos via Flickr.]

[The following statement was issued by the Jordanian Coordination Group of Electronic Websites (CGEW) on 13 September 2012 and published on Ammon News.] 

Despite King Abdullah II's repeated assurances that Jordanians enjoy unrestricted freedom of expression and free media, successive Jordanian governments for the past three years have attempted -- and succeeded -- in passing laws designed to undermine the freedom of the press, particularly the now widespread electronic news websites.

On Thursday, 13 September, 2012 the Jordanian Senate's Legal Committee endorsed the proposed amendments to the Press and Publications Law, which was earlier drafted by the government and endorsed by the Lower House of Parliament, in a move to further restrict the freedom of the Internet and online expression. 

The controversial proposed law has been met by concerted rejection from the Jordanian press sector and the Coordination Group of Electronic Websites (CGEW), in addition to bloggers, activists, and local and international rights and freedoms organizations. CGEW categorically rejects the Jordanian regime's attempt to undermine its freedoms, stressing that the law violates the constitutional guarantees to freedom of expression and the press. 

The proposed law poses dangers to online expression, giving the government executive power to censor and block websites and close their local offices, unreasonable demands to license websites (including blogs) with the Press and Publications Department, and more threatening stipulations that holds owners, editors-in-chief, managers and editors responsible for the contents of online comments posted on their sites. Further legal measures are also imposed on Internet users under the proposed law. 

The proposed law presents a vague definition of "online publications," extending to electronic news websites, blogs, and potentially subjecting global websites such as Yahoo! and Google in its amended articles.

Jordan has several existing laws that restrict freedom of expression and the press, including the existing Press and Publications Law which criminalizes defamation and slander and carries prison terms and fines, and the 2010 Law on Information Systems Crimes which criminalizes the publishing of defamatory content through online portals, including email, text messages, or Internet websites. 

A wide conglomerate of Jordanian journalists, bloggers, and activists have carried out numerous protests in the past month against the proposed law, including demonstrations and rallies in front of the Parliament and the Jordan Press Syndicate, and over one thousand Jordanian websites participated in the Internet Blackout on 29 August, 2012, warning citizens that they "may be deprived of the content of this site under the amendments of the Jordanian Press and Publications Law and the governmental Internet censorship." CGEW also prepared a "blacklist" of officials and lawmakers dubbed as "Enemies of Freedoms." 

Journalists and activists have also launched a petition to King Abdullah II to interfere and protect Jordanians' freedom of expression and Internet freedoms. "Freedom of the Press and the Internet is crucial for citizens to build a strong democracy, but such amendments to the law obstruct freedom of expression and tarnishes Jordan's image abroad," the petition stated.

Today, more than ever, Jordan is in dire need to grant its citizens their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech, expression, and freedom of the press. Controversial and inflammatory legislations such as the proposed amended Press and Publications Law deal a major blow to the country's political, economic, and social reform efforts and an obstacle towards democratic change in the Kingdom.

Freedom of the press in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has already witnessed deterioration as reported by local and global indexes in the past three years, including a regression towards "Not Free" status in Freedom House's Freedom of the Press 2012 report, and a reported decline in the level of press freedoms in the Press Freedom Index maintained by Reporters Without Borders. 

We urge you to assist in taking action against this latest move to restrict freedoms by appealing to King Abdullah II and the Jordanian government and lawmakers to reject the proposed amendments to the Press and Publications Law, and support Jordanians in defending their constitutionally guaranteed rights against oppressive measures to restrict their freedoms. 

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