Jordan blocks unregistered news sites

02-06-2013 07:00 PM

Ammon News - By Banan Malkawi

AMMONNEWS - The Jordanian government on Sunday blocked dozens of local news websites that have not yet registered or refused to register and obtain licenses from the state-run Press and Publications Department, a measure that warns of government efforts to further restrict internet and press freedoms in the kingdom.

The move to block the sites came after a six-month ultimatum given to news websites to register with the department in accordance with the controversial 2012 amended Press and Publications Law.

On Sunday, head of the Press and Publications Department Fayez al Shawabkeh sent a memo to Jordan's Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) requesting a block on over 200 unregistered news websites by the kingdom's various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) by end of of the day on Sunday, June 2nd, 2013.

The Coordination Committee of Electronic News Websites, the majority of which have not registered yet, denounced in statements on Sunday the government's move to ban their sites.

"In this measure, The government and official agencies have violated all the commitments and promises it made to the journalism community of not resorting to blocking the sites, and their promises to make essential amendments to the Press and Publications Law," the Committee's statement said.

The Coordination Committee called on the Jordan Press Association (JPA) to take stern measures towards the government's attempts to "stifle freedom of the press."

The statement called for an open protest in front of the JPA headquarters in Amman at 10 AM on Monday to protest the ban.

The Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) on Sunday expressed concern in regards to the government's measure towards unlicensed and unregistered news sites, describing the measure as the "detrimental and expected consequence of the amended Press and Publications Law," and a measure that will "storm the freedom of electronic media."

The mandatory registration went into effect in September 2012 after the amendments to the Press and Publications Law were endorsed by both Houses of Parliament and signed by King Abdullah II.

The endorsement of the controversial law triggered major denunciations from media watchdogs and civil society organization as a measure to restrict internet and press freedoms in the kingdom.

Various news websites announced going on "electronic disobedience" in reaction to the law, and staged a protest tent that remained open for months in opposition to the law.

The law targets news websites with four main amendments, forcing news websites to register and get licensed, granting authorities executive powers to block and censor websites and close their local offices, and holds publishers, editors-in-chief, editors and managers liable for comments posted on their respective websites.

Journalists and activists in the past year staged several protests and rallies against the law, and carried out a SOPA-style internet blackout on August 29, 2012 with over 1,000 local websites blacking out their sites in protest of the amended law, warning readers that they may be deprived of their Internet and freedom of expressions.

The amendments to the law included restrictive stipulations, including requiring the editor-in-chief to have been a member of the Jordan Press Association for at least four years, putting news websites on par with newspapers and conventional media outlets.

The amendments also hold news websites legally accountable for any "irrelevant" comments made by readers, and require the sites to archive all comments in their servers for a minimum of six months.

Meanwhile, the government said that the law only targets electronic news websites, and will not affect social networking sites or international websites. The government stressed that the law is aimed to organize the sector and provide legal guarantees against slander and unlawful material.

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