The Cyber Tightrope
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Jordanian King Abdullah II approved a new bill Saturday that would impose strict penalties on online speech deemed harmful to national unity, a move that human rights groups warn will stifle free speech in a country where censorship is on the rise, the Associated Press reported.
The legislation will make certain online posts punishable with months of imprisonment and fines. These posts include comments “promoting, instigating, aiding, or inciting immorality,” showing “contempt for religion” or “undermining national unity.”
It also prohibits individuals from posting the names or pictures of police officers and bans the use of tools to maintain online anonymity, such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN), according to the Middle East Eye.
Both houses of parliament voted in favor of the bill, with lawmakers stressing that the measures – which amend a 2015 cybercrime law – are necessary to prevent crimes by blackmailers and cybercriminals.
But some opposition lawmakers and human rights organizations cautioned that the changes will expand the government’s control over social media, while journalists’ groups feared it could infringe upon press freedom and freedom of speech.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and 13 other groups called the legislation “draconian.”
The new bill is the latest in a series of crackdowns on free speech in Jordan, an important ally of the United States in the Middle East.
HRW released a report last year saying that Jordanian authorities have increasingly been targeting protesters and journalists in a “systematic campaign to quell peaceful opposition and silence critical voices.”