Jordan, one of the more moderate of Middle Eastern countries and seen by some as the would-be “Silicon Valley of the Middle East”, is today exercising its freedom of expression in a SOPA-inspired media blackout to protest a piece of legislation that could threaten that freedom in the future. Apparently hundreds of sites have gone dark in support of #BlackoutJo - a protest against a draft bill to amend the Press and Publications Law. If approved, critics believe it could restrict Internet freedom in the country by blocking international sites, and allowing the government to moderate and potentially restrict online commenting and social media in the country.
The protest was brought to our attention by Jordan-based TC reader Rami Arafat. Several high-profile figures, including Queen Noor Al Hussein, have also gotten behind the effort.
And here is what you get when you visit one of the bigger news sites today. The click-through goes to a story from yesterday explaining what is going on.
Update: Other sites participating include Jeeran, Jo24, Wamda, and BeAmman, along with hundreds of others. (A running and possibly not complete list is featured here, on Oryanet, one of the protest organisers.) [Original article continues below.]
The hope behind the blackout is that if there is enough coverage of it by mainstream media outside of Jordan, the government will withdraw the draft bill. Jordan is a close ally of countries like the UK and U.S.; the idea here is that as a result its government would be responsive if the right authorities weighed in.
The draft bill was introduced a while back but the wheels were set in motion for approval last week, when the country's government approved it. Parliament has now had one debate on the bill and is planning for another on the 30th of this month, according to Oryanet.
Here are some of the areas covered by the draft bill, as laid out by the protestors. From the looks of it, it would put Jordan in line with other countries with significantly more restrctive Internet policies, such as China and its “Great Firewall.”
- Censorship The law allows the head of Press and Publications to block any international website that is in violation with the law. This means non-Jordanian sites can be blocked for any reason.
- Limiting freedom of speech the law also censors and monitors your comments, which will be monitored and censored! Website owners will be responsible for the comments posted by citizens, thus having to censor user comments themselves. They also have to store all comments for a period of at least 6 months.
- Ambiguous The provisions of the law are very ambiguous, it states online media, which could include based on the government's discretion: social networks, photo and video sharing sites, blogs and more
- Restrictive The law puts a lot of limitations on websites, which disturbs freedom of speech, not only does it force websites to register and become members of the press association, appoint a chief editor, and pay membership fees, it allows courts to prosecute any website!
If you are someone who is actually in support of the bill, we'd like to hear your side, too.