Hundreds of Jordanian websites went black yesterday in protest against a draft law amending the Press and Publications Act that has been approved by the government. Journalists union, human rights groups and local organizations said that this law is designed to repress the freedom of the press. Queen Noor of Jordan, wife of the late King Hussein bin Talal, expressed her solidarity with the protesters, demanding that the law be struck down.
Around 500 websites replaced their home pages with black screens displaying this message: “You may be denied access to the content of this website under amendments to the Press and Publications Act as a result of government control over the Internet.”
The coordination committee of news websites said in a statement that the number of websites joining the blackout exceeded 500, adding that this demonstration is a planned escalation in the protests against the amendents to the Press and Publications Act designed to stifle the freedom of the press.
Dozens of journalists protested in front of the parliament building, demanding the cancellation of the amendments to the law. A number of MPs, unions members and politicians took part in the protest, saying that they will work to ensure the restrictive law doesn’t pass and stand against any oppression of the media. In a gesture that surprised media outlets in Amman, Queen Noor expressed her solidarity with the protesters demanding the cancellation of the law. The queen wrote on Twitter yesterday, “I express my solidarity with the electronic blackout campaign, and I support the protesters.”
The draft law proposed by the government was submitted to parliament for a final-approval vote. The parliament then sent the law to its National Guidance Committee to examine the law and make recommendations on whether to adopt or reject it. The committee’s decisions are not binding — all members of parliament have the right to indicate whether they accept or reject these recommendations.
The committee chairman, MP Mohammad Hajaya, stated, “We will work vigorously to prevent a law restricting the freedom of the press from passing.” Hajaya told al-Hayat that “the journalists’ protest in front of the parliament building reflects their refusal to conform to the customary mentality and muzzled-mouths policy upon which the government of Fayez al-Tarawneh relied.”
Amal Ghabayen, editor-in-chief of the “Joe 24” website, said that “the government and MPs are working to oppress the freedom of the press, after news websites have been successful in exposing important cases of corruption,” stressing that “the journalists will continue their protests and demonstrations until their demands are met.”
Ghabayen said that there is a link between the electoral and publications laws, adding that the “media are being continuously pressured to promote the idea of participating in the upcoming parliamentary elections and ignoring the opposition’s calls for a boycott.”
The draft law, which will be sent to parliament next week, gives the press and publications department the right to block any non-Jordanian and non-licensed website if it violates any of the articles of the present law. The law’s amendments stipulate that it is possible for the judiciary to issue an order to block licensed websites and that electronic media outlets cannot publish comments that include information not pertaining to the subject of the news that have not been validated or that constitute a crime under the provisions of the present law or any other law.