Jordan urged to end censorship of local news websites

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday criticized a Jordanian government decision to block 290 unlicensed local news websites, saying the move restricts media freedom.

“Jordanian authorities should immediately rescind an order to censor... unlicensed local news websites,” HRW said in a statement.

“The government should also scrap recent legislation that allows it to encroach on online media freedom. The attempts to regulate online speech violate Jordan's constitutional free expression guarantees.”

A Jordanian official said on Monday the government would block 290 of around 400 local news websites “for failing to obtain necessary licensing.”

The Press and Publication Department has insisted “the decision does not seek to restrict freedoms.”

“The objective is to organize the work of these websites,” it said in a weekend.

The government has repeatedly warned it would block unlicensed websites but the decision had not yet been implemented.

“King Abdullah talked a good game about rights reform... but didn’t wait for the dust to settle before moving to muzzle Jordanian news sites,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

“’The government is stuck in a hopeless time warp, trying to control online communications in the same ways it has tried to censor and control print media.”

Last year, amendments to the Press and Publications Law authorized the government to regulate “electronic publications,” requiring them to submit to the same regulatory structure imposed on print media.

Article 49 of the amended law requires any “electronic publication that engages in publication of news, investigations, articles, or comments, which have to do with the internal or external affairs of the kingdom” to obtain registration and licensing from the Press and Publications Department, HRW said.

The amendments also stipulate that website chief editors must be members of the Jordan Press Association.

Jordanian activists, journalists and the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition group, have criticized the decision.

“Jordan claims that it is simply regulating online journalism and upholding journalistic integrity, but in reality these amendments give authorities a tool to punish Jordanian journalists for what they write,” Whitson said.

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