I read this piece of news a few days ago and have been waiting to see how accurate it was as most of the major mainstream media avoided reporting it for some reason. Alas, a Jordanian computer science student has been sentenced to two years in prison by the State Security court for supposedly insulting HM King Abdullah during a chat with a friend on MSN Messenger. There are so many things that render that last sentence dangerous that it’s not even funny.
First, the fact that it’s the 21st century and Jordanians are still being tried for lese majeste – a law so archaic that it begs to reason why any nation would dare continue to use it and still promote itself as progressive – is beyond me. If anything, this is one of those laws that world history has proven to be pretty damn useless and ineffective. It doesn’t stop people from insulting the country’s ruler, in fact it encourages critics to do so (as is the case in Morocco these days), and more over, it solidifies the idea that one lives in an authoritarian state.
Second, the State Security court prosecuting a university student for something he said on a chat room? Not only does this erode the credibility and undermine the perceived legitimacy of this judicial body, but the same court that tries people for treason should not be sentencing citizens for the criticisms insults they inflict.
Third, I’ll just put aside the fact that MSN Messenger is apparently being monitored by the mukhabarat aside and thank the good Lord that I’m not a chat kind of person.
Lastly, there is perhaps some irony that it is a computer science student at the center of this mess. Ten years ago, King Abdullah came to power as the “IT King” – promoting the IT sector and encouraging young students to go in to the field like there was no tomorrow. Even promises were made that these students would find jobs in a thriving industry upon their graduation. Ten years later and of course none of those promises have been realized vis a vis the state, however, students are still entering the field, graduating, and working in a sector that is likely to become part of the backbone of the economy in the near future – no thanks to the government. So there is perhaps some irony that after all is said and done, it was a computer science student that the state has chosen to prosecute. I perhaps would not have minded as much had he been a philosophy major.
There is also a little bit of irony in the fact that these past few months have seen a rise in the number of state officials being present online, especially on Twitter and Facebook – as detailed in a recent article on 7iber. Yet, as liberal as their choice to be online is, they remain strongly entrenched within a system that will prosecute its citizens for what they say online.
The timing of the case is also quite interesting as we started this year off with a controversial ruling on a court case that saw one citizen being prosecuted for something he said online. Moreover, HM Queen Rania also very recently launched another online initiative to encourage tourists to come to Jordan.
I hope that this post is not taken as a suggestion or even as an act of encouraging Jordanians to, God forbid, insult the King. Heck, I don’t think anyone should be insulting anyone to begin with. But then again, I don’t think anyone should be sentenced to two years in prison by the State Security court for doing so.
Perhaps the most dangerous outcome of this case is that it will likely solidify notions held by certain proponents within the state who have been pushing for placing limits on free speech online.
Update: This post was spreading a bit on twitter today and someone tweeted something that I thought perfectly articulated my frame of mind in 140 characters, so I thought I’d share it…
@Aboosh: no1 condones insulting the King, but the extent of online monitoring is violating the basic privacy rights of citizens