Jordanian authorities over the weekend moved to block some 300 news websites under a restrictive new law that activists say threatens to undermine press freedom there.
The law penalizes publications that do not register under the Press and Publications Law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The government's director of press and publications, Fayez al-Shawabkeh, is believed to have issued an order on Saturday requiring internet providers to block certain websites.
"Censoring 300 websites makes Jordan's talk of political reform seem hollow," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Authorities should immediately rescind this order and uphold King Abdullah's stated support for political reform and media freedom."
The law, passed in September, has came into force amid aggressive local reporting and press commentary on King Abdullah II's “Towards Democratic Empowerment and Active Citizenship” paper, according to The New York Times. The government says the law seeks to improve media quality in Jordan and curb criticism of the authorities.
Opposition to King Abdullah has been growing in Jordan in recent months. Some 80 activists protested against the new law outside the journalists'' union in Amman on Monday, said the Times, and there are plans for further demonstrations on Thursday.
The law makes information websites legally responsible not only for their own material, which is normal, but also makes them liable for all reader comments — a provision likely to invite lawsuits when desirable. It also requires publications to officially register with the government and pay $1,400 in fees, said the Times.
The ArabCrunch blog compiled a list of the providers targeted by the government, available in Arabic here.
Daoud Kuttab of AmmanNet told The Times he was already finding ways around the new law by posting articles on Facebook, for example.
“The information we have will be available to the public somehow,” Kuttab said, adding: “It is a sad day when a country wants its people to hear things only from the government’s perspective.”
Press freedom organizations were quick to sound in on the move, particularly because it came just weeks after Amman hosted the International Press Institute's (ISI) World Congress.
“We encourage authorities in Jordan and elsewhere to find alternatives to ensuring the quality of content that do not jeopardize international or domestic agreements, or restrict free access to information,” ISI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said on Sunday.