As many as 200 Jordanian websites went offline Wednesday to protest a government proposal for anti-pornography legislation and new restrictions on the Internet, widely criticized on social media as censorship.
For one day, the sites only displayed a black background and text reading: “You may be deprived of the content of this site under the amendments of the Jordanian Press and Publications Law and the governmental Internet censorship.”
The purpose of the protest – hashtagged on Twitter as #BlackoutJo – was to draw attention to the new legislation, in hopes that the Jordanian government would withdraw the proposed legislation. The government approved the amendments to the Press and Publication Law earlier in August, and has sent the bill to parliament for adoption.
With the officially stated aim of restricting pornographic websites, the law will grant the government more control in censoring the Internet. Owners of sexually explicit sites will now be required to register with the government and obtain a license. These requirements could subject the sites to government assessments of whether they are consistent with "Jordanian culture," sources said.
Website owner would also be held responsible for comments made by readers, and would face a range of fines and penalties for violations. Any comment deemed offensive could incur fines estimated at 10,000 JD ($14,000 USD).
Critics of the proposed law fear the censorship will extend far beyond pornography, due to the bill’s vague and arbitrary language.
TechCrunch posted on their website some activists’ concerns, who contend that the law would allow the country’s head of Press and Publications to block any international website that violates with the law – non-Jordanian sites could be blocked for any reason.
The proposed bill would also curb freedom of speech, they argue, as it censors and monitors online comments. Website owners will be held responsible for the comments posted by users, thus forcing them to self-censor comments. They would also be required to record and store all comments for a period of at least six months.
The sites affected by the bill could include social networks, photo and video sharing sites, blogs and more. It would also force websites to register and pay fees to be members of the press association and appoint a chief editor, opening up the possibility for national courts to prosecute any Jordanian website.
The Jordanian government argues that the changes are needed to protect people, specifically minors, from online pornography.
The blackout got attention of some celebrities. Queen Noor, widow of the late King Hussein of Jordan, was highly critical of the proposed legislation. “Hypocrisy, lies, intolerance, hate, violence – all unhealthy evils. Where does it start and end,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Jordanian web blackout was reportedly inspired by January’s anti-SOPA day, when major internet websites – including Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla, Google and many others – went offline to protest the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). SOPA was introduced by the US Congress as a means to curb online piracy and counterfeit goods. The bill would have granted both the government and major corporations the power to unilaterally shut down entire websites accused of copyright infringement, without a trial or court hearing. The proposed legislation sparked a wave of international protest.