The government says the law will punish online attackers, but critics fear it will expand state control over social media.
Jordan’s parliament has passed a new cyber crime legislation that will crack down on online speech deemed harmful to national unity, a move decried by opposition lawmakers and human rights groups.
After a six-hour debate on Thursday, the country’s lower house of parliament passed the legislation to make certain online posts punishable with months of prison time and fines.
The posts targeted include those seen as “promoting, instigating, aiding, or inciting immorality,” demonstrating “contempt for religion” or “undermining national unity”.
It will also target those who publish names or pictures of police officers online and outlaws certain methods of maintaining online anonymity.
While proponents of the legislation argue it is necessary to punish blackmailers and online attackers, critics say it will expand state control over social media, limit free access to information, and penalise antigovernment speech and thereby could be used against political opponents.
“This law is disastrous and will lead to turning Jordan into a large prison,” opposition lawmaker Saleh al-Armoiti said after Thursday’s vote.
Ahead of the vote, 14 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, said in a joint statement the law is “draconian”, adding that its “vague provisions open the door for Jordan’s executive branch to punish individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression, forcing the judges to convict citizens in most cases”.
The United States, a key ally and Jordan’s largest donor, had also criticised the law.
“This type of law, with vague definitions and concepts, could undermine Jordan’s homegrown economic and political reforms efforts and further shrink the civic space that journalists, bloggers and other members of civil society operate in Jordan,” US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Monday.
Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh defended the legislation during the debate on the bill, saying online crimes had increased and online extortion was causing disarray.
“The law does not touch freedoms or rights enshrined in the constitution. We are open to criticism,” he said.
The law will now head to the Senate before going to Jordan’s King Abdullah II for final approval.
The measure is the latest in a series of crackdowns on online free speech in Jordan, including social media blackouts during times of civil unrest.
Most recently, in December, it blocked the TikTok app after users shared live videos of worker protests.
A 2022 report by Human Rights Watch found that authorities increasingly target protesters and journalists in a “systematic campaign to quell peaceful opposition and silence critical voices”.
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