Likely one of the most pertinent issues of our time and our specific region, Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International are launching the second annual World Day Against Cyber Censorship. Last year, if some of you recall, RWB put together an interesting, 24-hour virtual demonstration.
This year, RWB have updated their annual list of “Internet Enemies” to include Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. On it’s “Under Surveillance” list, Jordan is thankfully no longer on it.
It’s been an interesting year for cyber space in Jordan, with the King’s vision of the Internet as a type of “safe haven” for free speech in the Kingdom becoming more solidified in various public declarations. The Internet is generally unfiltered and uncensored, yet this past year has marked the rising dawn of the electronic news sites, and in the coming years, the state is truly going to be tested for just how much free speech it can withstand. Internet penetration is set to rise and that’s when more people online will translate to more people reading online and thus a potential increase in regulation. That’s when the King’s words will truly be put to the test and the state’s actions become more reflective of reality.
As of today, people are still at risk of running in to trouble for something they’ve said online. There is no legislation to get their backs and even constitutional protections are vague if not inapplicable. In other words, that constant fear has precedent, and is therefore justifiable. So Jordanians are right to follow it instinctively. Partially.
That being said, perhaps our bigger problem at this point isn’t so much state censorship as it is self-censorship. It isn’t so much about what the state accepts now, but how much it will accept.
And that is a test that only Jordanian bloggers, writers, journalists and anyone armed with a keyboard can give.
We are at a point where the state isn’t being tested to the extent of which it should when it comes to free speech online, and those boundaries need to be pushed. As Jordanians, we should be taking the opportunity to use the net in a manner that allows us to critically analyze our country from a political, economic, social and cultural perspective – constantly.
Few Jordanian bloggers are doing that these days, and only one or two electronic news sites (despite their sensationalist-tendencies) are attempting to do that.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten what others all over the world, and predominantly in our very region, are fighting for on a daily basis: the right to speak. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia and Syria are 4 of 13 countries listed as Reporters Without Border’s “Internet Enemies”, with Bahrain, Yemen, and the UAE representing 3 out of 11 “Under Surveillance” nations of the same list. Think about those numbers for a minute.
Filling cyber space with golden platitudes of blind praise and flag-waving commotions is at best a disservice to one’s country, and at worst, an insult to the generations that preceded us who were told to remain mute, and were made to suffer to ensure their silence.
Everyday is an opportunity to speak.
So don’t waste it.