Jordan’s Draft Cybercrimes Law Threatens Free Speech and Fuels Online Censorship
The Jordanian parliament has been urged to drop a draft cybercrimes law that poses a severe threat to free speech and could worsen online censorship in a nation where freedoms have already been under attack by a coalition of 14 civil rights organisations led by the American Human Rights Watch (HRW). The proposed legislation, in the opinion of HRW, tightens governmental control over online spaces while undermining free speech online and endangering internet users’ right to anonymity. The draft bill comes at a time when Jordanian authorities have increasingly targeted political opponents and common citizens, employing a variety of regulations to muzzle dissenting voices. This represents a worrying decrease in freedom of expression.
The Controversial Draft Cybercrimes Law
The government claims that the new draft cybercrimes law in Jordan, which has 41 provisions, aims to fight problems including “disinformation,” “hate speech,” and “online defamation.” According to Jordanian authorities, the rule is intended to shield people from cyber-blackmail rather than to stifle free speech. However, the coalition of human rights organisations, which includes HRW, voices grave worries that the law’s implementation could hurt the nation’s right to free speech.
Critics contend that the law’s ambiguous and excessively broad clauses could result in widespread abuse and misuse by the government. For instance, in a country where social media has replaced traditional media as the main forum for criticising what they perceive to be arbitrary government actions and corruption, activists, journalists, and independent politicians worry that the law would damage public freedoms.
The Threats to Free Speech
Human Rights Watch and its partner organisations highlight specific articles in the draft law that they believe threaten free speech:
Criminalising law enforcement personnel who commit offences
Anyone who publishes without permission names, images, or other information about law enforcement officers that could be interpreted as offensive or damaging is subject to punishment under Article 24 of the proposed law. Violations might result in harsh punishments, such as a minimum three-month prison term and substantial fines. The coalition argues that this clause effectively criminalises any communication that might be critical of or cast doubt on the conduct of law enforcement.
Sweeping Judicial Powers
The proposed law gives courts broad authority to compel the deletion or blocking of content they find illegal. This authority is subject to websites, social networking sites, or users with public profiles. Furthermore, the law calls for reporting pertinent data, including user personal information, and authorises interim restrictions on users or publishers.
Jordan’s lack of an independent judicial system is one of the coalition’s primary concerns. There are concerns that the new law will further restrict free speech by allowing authorities to utilise the legal system to repress dissenting voices. The country’s courts have a history of being used to prosecute human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and political opponents.
Jordan’s parliament is still considering the draft cybercrime law, and a coalition of human rights groups led by HRW is urging them to do so because they fear it will adversely affect the country’s online and free speech rights. Critics worry that the law’s ambiguous sections might be used to muzzle dissenting voices and strengthen government control over online areas, despite the government’s claims that it addresses problems like disinformation and hate speech. It is critical that Jordan’s legislators carefully assess the potential implications of this proposed bill, given the recent deterioration in the country’s environment for free expression. Any legislation controlling the digital sphere should continue to focus on safeguarding free expression and maintaining democratic values.