Jordan's King Abdullah approves internet law

The legislation sets out tough penalties for those who spread 'false news' and also bans the use of VPNs

 Morad (L) plays a game in the internet cafe as his brother Hosam (2nd from L) watches, in Amman September 25, 2008. (Salah Malkawi/ The National)
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Jordan's King Abdullah has approved legislation banning virtual private networks and restricting what people can say and publish on the internet.

The overwhelmingly pro-government legislature passed the law over the past month and it went to the king for formal approval.

Nidal Mansour, head of the Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists, in Amman, had hoped that the king would have turned down the legislation because it widens "freedom-depriving" powers under the disposal of the authorities.

Mr Mansour said young people in Jordan could be falling foul of the vague law without knowing when they have violated it.

"It will strain the judiciary," said Mr Mansour.

The legislative branch in Jordan is overwhelmingly pro-government and the king holds most powers in the country. He rarely turns down legislation.

On July 26, a US State Department spokesman criticised the law as undermining freedom of expression in Jordan and having the potential to scare off investors

Prime Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh said this month that the law “does not touch or undermine the core" of freedoms mentioned in the constitution.

The new law criminalises the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, which help internet users to bypass local restrictions and maintain anonymity online.

Those who spread “false news” that “undermines national unity” face jail terms between three months and three years. “Character assassination” through the internet has been labelled a crime, punishable by less than three months in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.

Internet users who “offend public morals” will receive at least nine months in jail.

Rights groups say Jordanian authorities have prosecuted or filed more than 2,000 cases against journalists, activists and dissidents in the past three years. TikTok and the debate application Clubhouse are blocked by Jordan, as well as Al Hudood, a Jordanian satirical publication in London that is styled after The Onion, a popular US satirical website.

Last week, Jordanian satirist Ahmad Al Zoubi was sentenced to one year in jail on charges of inciting sectarian strife, in connection with online remarks in support of truckers who went on strike in southern Jordan in December to protest fuel prices.

The truckers' strike escalated into riots in the area, which resulted in the killing of four police officers by men who the authorities described as religious extremists.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 6:41 AM