Jordanian Online Censorship: What We Missed On March 12

Despite my own daily rounds of the online world, I unfortunately missed an important event that took place a few weeks back on March 12th, and I’m kind of disappointed in myself. But I suppose, it’s better late than never, right? Well, apparently, on March 12th, a very interesting initiative took place, as Reporters Without Borders (RWB) launched a worldwide campaign for Internet Dissidents for one single day. It was literally, a cyber-demonstration, with thousands of bloggers and Internet users showing up to protest in a very cool and virtual way:

Within hours of the launch more than 5,000 internet users had gathered to demand more online freedom, British broadcaster the BBC said on its website. According to RSF, 62 cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned worldwide, while more than 2,600 websites, blogs or discussion forums were closed or made inaccessible in 2007.

“From now on, we will organise activities every 12 March to condemn cyber-censorship throughout the world,” the group said.

“A response of this kind is needed to the growing tendency to crack down on bloggers and to close websites.” [source]

The black list this cyber-demo was targeting included countries that have cracked down on cyber-activism and blogging, including Arab nations such as Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia (Fouad Farhan anyone?).

But a second list of countries to “watch for” now includes Jordan, which is no surprise given the past 12 months:

A second list of countries ‘under watch’ includes Bahrain and the UAE along with Eritrea, Gambia, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Tajikstan and Thailand. These countries do not imprison bloggers or significantly censor the internet, however “they are sorely tempted and abuses are common”, RSF said.

So I’m also a bit disappointed that no one on the Jordanian blogosphere was able to catch this (to my knowledge), including myself. I honestly only heard about it recently through an email I received from a reader of The Black Iris, which I highly appreciate.

I suspect, based on the way things have been going recently, that by March 12th next year, Jordanian bloggers and Internet users will have even more reason to participate in the global cyber-demo, to demand their online freedoms and rights.

Because, ironically, March 12th was also the day I missed another important piece of related news that went widely unreported (or at least deemphasized): Jordan decided to establish a “big brother” system for Internet cafes in the Kingdom:

The newly announced measures on “Organising the Work of Internet Cafés and Centres” obliges Internet café owners to install cameras to monitor users; register users’ personal data (including name, telephone number, time of use, Internet provider number and data accessed); install censorship programmes to prohibit access to certain websites, including websites offending religious beliefs or promoting the use of drugs and alcohol; and grants Jordanian Security Services the right to visit any Internet café to ensure compliance [source]

The Internet’s popularity is growing at a rapid pace in Jordan, especially amongst its youth. I don’t even think the 16% sales tax on Internet services, the second highest in the region, has had a real impact on hindering its growth. And as Internet penetration increases, so do online freedoms and so do the reactionary measures by the state security services to censor and abuse the system, contrary to HM King Abdullah’s own directives.

It seems we are approaching the edge, and I can’t help but quote one of my personal heroes at a moment like this:

“Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it…forever.” – Noam Chomsky


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