- Telecom operators continue to block VoIP calling features on several communication apps, but an online campaign successfully pressured the government to roll back a proposal for operators to unblock them for a monthly fee (see Restrictions on Connectivity and Digital Activism).
- Prodemocracy activists were detained and prosecuted for their online activities, including eight retired officials who called for reform and one leader of a Facebook campaign (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).
- In a first, several licensed news websites were blocked. Jordan’s Media Commission, the sole agency with authority to order blocks, denied responsibility in some cases (see Blocking and Filtering).
- Writer Nahed Hattar, who was on trial for republishing a cartoon on Facebook seen as offensive to Islam, was assassinated by a religious extremist (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities and Intimidation and Violence).
Internet freedom declined in Jordan due to the murder of Nahed Hattar by a religious extremist for sharing a satirical cartoon on Facebook, as well as the blocking of several licensed news sites.
Authorities arrested several activists for calling for criticizing public officials or calling for reform. Communication apps continue to be restricted during school examinations, an alarming sign that the government will restrict information at the slightest excuse. Internet service providers (ISPs) continue to block internet calling services (VoIP) on popular apps such as Viber, WhatsApp, and Skype, in defiance of Jordan’s telecommunications regulator. Millions of Jordanians who rely on the services to do business and communicate have been unable to access them since 2015.
Legal restrictions on internet and digital media freedom are principally based on a cybercrime law and the Press and Publication Law (PPL). Article 11 of the cybercrime law penalizes online defamation with a fine and prison sentence of at least three months. The Law Interpretation Bureau ruled that the law could also be applied to journalists for articles that appeared on their outlets’ websites, thereby contravening protections in the PPL. After the assassination of the Nahed Hattar, a Christian writer who had mocked extremists’ concept of heaven, a new climate of fear emerged on social media. The government has also sought to pass tougher legislation on hate speech and incitement online.
After the regional uprisings of 2011, constitutional amendments were passed to calm public discontent, improving protections for freedom of expression and strengthening the independence of the judiciary. However, when amendments to the PPL came into force in June 2013, nearly 300 websites were blocked for failing to obtain a license from the Media Commission. During the coverage period, unlicensed websites remained blocked by the commission, but at least two licensed websites were temporarily blocked without a clear legal basis, in addition to the entirety of the Internet Archive.
Mobile broadband has soared, boosted by the introduction of 4G LTE and new packages with more affordable pricing. However, the ICT market continues to be largely controlled by Jordan’s existing providers.
Availability and Ease of Access
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 62.3 percent of the Jordanian population had access to the internet by the end of 2017, up from 34.9 percent five years earlier.1 National figures from the Telecommunications Regulation Commission (TRC) estimated 8.7 million Jordanians had access to the internet, resulting in a penetration rate of 87 percent as of the third quarter of 2016. For the same period, the TRC estimated the number of mobile phone subscriptions to be slightly over 16.7 million, or a penetration rate of 168 percent.2 Ninety percent of all internet subscriptions are mobile broadband subscriptions, with the number of fixed-line ADSL subscriptions steadily decreasing.3
A survey conducted by the Department of Statistics demonstrated that females made up 43.5 percent of Jordanian internet users in 2015.4 Thirteen percent of respondents cited the high cost of internet service as a reason for not using the internet, while only one percent saw the lack of localized or Arabic online content as a reason for not connecting.5 Prices have dropped in recent years, but in February 2017, a sales tax on internet services was increased from 8 to 16 percent, resulting in a price increase.6
Monthly home broadband subscriptions range from JOD 21 (US$30) for a data allowance of 82 GB, to JOD 50 (US$71) for allowance of up to 300 GB.7 Monthly mobile internet prices range from JOD 2 (US$3) for a 400 MB plan to JOD 20 (US$28) for 10 GB.8
According to Pew Research Center, there is a “real and pervasive” demographic digital divide among internet users in Jordan. While 75 percent of individuals from the ages of 18-34 use the internet, the percentage dropped to 57 percent among those aged 35 years and above. The contrast was even starker when looking at education levels. Ninety-six percent of people with “more education” used the internet, compared to only 41 percent of Jordanians with “less education.” The report also shed light on economic differences, with 80 percent of high-income individuals using the internet compared to 50 percent of low-income individuals.9 Meanwhile, access in many of the country’s rural governorates remains poor in comparison to urban areas. For instance, fiber-optic connections (FTTx) offered by the main providers are limited to the wealthy areas of western Amman, the capital city.
Restrictions on Connectivity
Methodology questions and scoring
Starting June 2015, the Jordanian government ordered internet service providers to block access to WhatsApp, Instagram, and Viber on days that secondary school students sat for their national exam (Tawhiji).10 Multiple users reported the block continued to be effective during exams in both 2016 and 2017, even though the restrictions were delimited to locations nearby examination halls and limited to a couple of hours.
In March 2016, the TRC stopped Jordanian mobile operators’ attempt to impose fees on the use of VoIP services in order to increase profits.11 However, the providers then blocked users from making free or cheap phone calls over services like WhatsApp and Viber. In January 2017, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MoICT) proposed a new monthly fee of JOD 2 (US$2.8) for users in order to unblock VoIP,12 with revenues shared between operators and the government. However, the proposed fee was rejected by the Council of Ministers following online protests (see “Digital Activism”).
While no other restrictions on connectivity were seen in Jordan over the past year, the centralization of the internet backbone infrastructure remains a concern. The incumbent operator, Orange Jordan, has a de facto monopoly on the international gateway and local backbone, as other providers utilize Orange’s copper network for last mile connectivity.13 Nonetheless, over the past few years, most ISPs have initiated work on their own fiber-optic backbone.14 Additionally, Orange remains the landing party for the FLAG FEA submarine cable,15 the only East-West cable to land in Jordan.16 A number of providers, like Damamax and LinkDotNet, have independent international connectivity17 while non-incumbent provider VTel signed an agreement to be the landing party for a possible connection of the FLAG FALCON submarine cable to Aqaba.18
International connectivity is also provided via terrestrial connections from neighbouring countries as an alternative to submarine cables. In 2015, the RCN (Regional Cable Network) was launched to provide a high-capacity terrestrial fiber network from Fujairah to Amman,19 an addition to the established JADI (Jeddah-Amman-Damascus-Istanbul) link, in operation since 2010.20
Three providers have a similar share of the information and communications technology (ICT) market: Umniah (a subsidiary of Batelco Bahrain), Zain, and Jordan Telecom.21 Jordan Telecom is 51 percent owned by France Telecom, with the remaining shares divided between Jordan’s Social Security Corporation, the armed forces, and others. An attempt to add a fourth provider was blocked by ISPs in December 2012.22
After rejecting two international operators, the Jordanian government awarded Zain Jordan the rights to introduce 4G/Long Term Evolution (LTE) services to the market, which it launched in February 2014. In January 2015, Orange Jordan (owned by the Jordan Telecom Group) was awarded the second 4G license for US$100 million,23 and later that June, the third 4G license was granted to Umniah for an equivalent price.24 In February 2017, FRiENDi, Jordan’s only mobile virtual network operator and part of Virgin Mobile Middle East and Africa, suspended its operations due to losses.25
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) is responsible for regulating the ICT sector. It is governed by the Telecommunications Law and defined as a “financially and administratively independent juridical personality.”26 Nonetheless, it is accountable to the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MoICT), which was created in April 2002 to drive the country’s ICT development.27 The TRC’s Board of Commissioners and its chairman are appointed by a resolution from the Council of Ministers based on a nomination from the prime minister.28 The ICT sector is regulated under Law No. 13 of 1995 and its amendment, Law No. 8 of 2002. The law endorses free-market policies and governs licensing and quality assurance.29
In January 2017, TRC chairman Ghazi Salem Al-Jobor30 blamed telecom operators for obstructing amendments to the Telecommunications Law that would have allowed the TRC to obtain greater independence and authority.31 One month earlier, members of a parliamentary finance committee cast doubt on the power of the TRC due to its inability to require that ISPs unblock VoIP services on popular communication apps (see Restrictions on Connectivity).32
- 1International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet,” accessed July 17, 2017, http://bit.ly/1cblxxY.
- 2Telecommunications Regulatory Commission – Jordan, “Telecommunications Market Indicators (Q1/2016-Q3/2016),” [in Arabic] http://bit.ly/2pnzbd9.
- 3Telecommunications Regulatory Commission – Jordan, “Telecommunications Indicators (Q4/2015-Q1/2016),” http://bit.ly/2p19Djd
- 4Department of Statistics, “Distribution of Persons Aged (15+) by Using of Internet (%),” [Summary] http://www.dos.gov.jo/dos_home_e/main/population/gender/it/2015/10.pdf.
- 5Department of Statistics and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, “ICT in Households Report for 2015,” p45 [in Arabic], http://moict.gov.jo/uploads/studies/househelds/home%202015.pdf.
- 6Jordan Times, “Gov’t raises minimum wage, hikes taxes on tobacco, telecom services,” February 9, 2017, http://bit.ly/2ltIPqH.
- 7Zain Jordan, “Postpain Broadband,” http://bit.ly/1yw0qCx.
- 8Zain Jordan, “Mobile Internet Plans,” http://bit.ly/1lK3m95.
- 9Jacob Poushter, “Internet Access Growing Worldwide but Remains Higher in Advanced Economies,” Pew Research Center, February 22, 2016, http://pewrsr.ch/1TwX4H2.
- 10Ibrahim Mbaydeen, “The government blocks Tawjihi classrooms’ access to three applications”, [in Arabic] Al-Ghad, June 20, 2015 http://bit.ly/260JtOi.
- 11“No Charges on Online Calling Apps- Telecom Commission,” Jordan Times, March 16, 2016. http://bit.ly/2bywrkk.
- 12Mohammad Ghazal, “Gov’t mulling several options to increase revenues from telecom sector,” Jordan Times, January 23, 2017, http://bit.ly/2jMimE7.
- 13“Jordan Country Commercial Guide - Information and Communication Technology,” Export.gov, February 28, 2017, https://www.export.gov/article?id=Jordan-Information-and-Communication-….
- 14Natalija Gelvanovska, Michel Rogy, and Carlo Maria Rossotto, “Broadband Networks in the Middle East and North Africa”, p 162, World Bank, January 29, 2014, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/16680.
- 15Orange Jordan Wholesale, “Voice and Data solutions,” accessed October 14, 2017, https://www.orange.jo/sites/wholesale/documents/pdf/ws_brochure.pdf.
- 16Global Cloud Xchange, “Our Network”, accessed on October 14, 2017, http://globalcloudxchange.com/our-network.
- 17Doug Madory, “Orange Jordan Goes Black”, Dyn Blog, August 14, 2012. https://dyn.com/blog/orange-jordan-goes-black.
- 18Natalija Gelvanovska, Michel Rogy, and Carlo Maria Rossotto, “Broadband Networks in the Middle East and North Africa”, p 71, World Bank, January 29, 2014, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/16680.
- 19Zain Jordan, “RCN (Regional Cable Network), New Terrestrial route connecting ME to Europe, goes live”, May 10, 2015, https://zain.com/en/press/rcn-regional-cable-network-new-terrestrial-ro….
- 20Orange Jordan, “Jeddah Amman Damascus Istanbul Network (JADI)”, accessed on October 14, 2017. https://www.orange.jo/sites/wholesale/en/pages/jadi.aspx.
- 21Mai Barakat, “Jordan will be challenging, but a fourth operator might find elbow room as a mobile broadband provider,” Ovum, February 21, 2013, http://bit.ly/1JBMhUg.
- 22Ghazzal, Mohammad, “Orange Jordan Opposes TRC Plan,” Jordan Times, December 15, 2012, accessed April 30, 2013 http://bit.ly/1ECBaO5.
- 23Mohammad Ghazal, “Orange launches 4G in Amman, to expand nationwide by Q3,” Jordan Times, May 26, 2015, http://bit.ly/1eCIvRh.
- 24Mohammad Ghazal, “Umniah granted 4G licence,” Jordan Times, June 14, 2015, http://bit.ly/2pBoUud.
- 25“FRiENDi Jordan suspends operations in Kingdom,” Jordan Times, February 12, 2017, http://bit.ly/2poQHxn.
- 26The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Jordan, Chapter III, http://bit.ly/1Mwi5QE.
- 27Information & Communication Technology Association-Jordan, “Jordan ICT Sector Profile,” Slide 10, accessed July 5, 2013, http://bit.ly/1V0uKKZ.
- 28TRC, Telecommunication Law No. (13) of 1995, January 10, 1995, pg 18, accessed June 26,2013, http://bit.ly/1KWfNtT.
- 29“Jordan,” in One Social Network With A Rebellious Message, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, 2009, http://bit.ly/1V0uqvC.
- 30TRC, “Board of Commissioners Profile,” http://bit.ly/1LD3DRd.
- 31Haydar Al Qammaz, “Al-Jobor: 100 million dinars expected revenues from «mobile» companies,” Al-Rai [In Arabic], January 10, 2017. http://bit.ly/2i8H3Nt.
- 32Moutaz Abu Rumman, “MP Abu Rumman called on telecom companies to reverse the decision to block digital communication service via Viber and Whatsapp,” [Facebook post, In Arabic], http://bit.ly/2gERhlZ.
Authorities are increasingly using extralegal means to censor critical coverage. Several licensed news sites were blocked in murky circumstances and without transparent legal authorization. Self-censorship remains pervasive, particularly around the royal family and Islam, although digital activism made concrete gains over the past year.
Blocking and Filtering
The past year witnessed an alarming uptick in the number of licensed news websites being blocked, seemingly for failing to adhere to strict editorial guidelines. On August 8, 2016, the Media Commission blocked news site AmmanNet for nine days. Ostensibly, the blocking occurred after lawyers with the commission reinterpreted licensing regulations to ban outlets that are not fully owned by Jordanian individuals or entities. However, the owners of the website pointed to recent publication of articles that criticized the Grand Mufti as the main reason for the blocking order.1
In another case, a licensed news site was blocked without any apparent order. The site, Kull al Urdun, was blocked for a month starting January 13, 2017 after publishing an article on the detention of the Mohammed Otoom, a former general with the General Intelligence Directorate and current pro-reform activist in Jordan's Military Veterans' Association (Tayyar).2 According to the website owner, Khaled Majali, the Media Commission denied issuing any order to block the website.3
Internet users separately reported that the Internet Archive, a digital library, was inaccessible from early 2016 to early 2017. In an email received by the Internet Archive, the Media Commission confirmed that no blocking order had been issued by them or any other official entity.4 These instances evidence an alarming rise in the extralegality and nontransparency of Jordanian censorship orders. Having little sense of why their website is blocked and who ordered it, there is effectively no recourse for website owners who have found their websites blocked.
Officially, the blocking of news websites is carried out according to the Press and Publications Law (PPL), amended in 2012, which stipulated that news websites need to obtain a license from the Media Commission or face blocking. The law also requires any electronic publication that publishes domestic or international news, press releases, or comments to register with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. One of the requirements for a general news website to obtain a license is to have an editor-in-chief who has been a member of the Jordan Press Association (JPA) for at least four years. In July 2014, the JPA law was amended to enable journalists in online media to become members. Prior to that, journalists could only become members if they underwent a period of “training” in an “official” media organization.
According to the amended PPL, an electronic publication is defined as any website “with a specific web address on the Internet which provides publishing services, including news, reports, investigations, articles, and comments, and chooses to be listed in a special register maintained at the Department, pursuant to instructions issued by the Minister for this purpose.”5 Articles 48 and 49 enable the head of the Media Commission to block any website for failing to obtain a license or, more broadly, for violating Jordanian law. For many observers, the law’s broad definition of a news website includes almost all Jordanian and international websites, blogs, portals, and social networks.
Consequently, 291 news websites were blocked in June 2013 on instructions from the head of the Media Commission (then named the Press and Publications Department) after a nine-month grace period. Most have since applied for a license to get unblocked. By June 2014, there were 160 licensed general news sites and 100 specialized websites. To obtain licenses, most general news websites hired new chief editors who were already JPA members, a concerning development for independent media given that 64 percent of JPA members work in government or government-related media outlets.6
The 2012 amendments of the PPL increased the liability of intermediaries for content posted on news websites, placing readers’ comments under the same restrictions as normal news content. Clause 3 of Article 49 states that both the editors-in-chief and owners of online publications are legally responsible for all content posted to the site, including user comments.7 Moreover, websites must keep a record of all comments for six months after initial publication and refrain from publishing any “untruthful” or “irrelevant” comments.8 As a result, some news websites, such as JO24, stopped allowing comments for a limited period of time as an expression of protest.9
Media, Diversity and Content Manipulation
The overwhelming majority of journalists continue to practice self-censorship, as the annual survey on media freedoms conducted by the Amman-based Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) showed. According to the center’s 2016 survey, a staggering 94 percent of journalists said they practiced self-censorship in 2016.10 When asked about taboo topics, 95 percent said they avoided criticizing the armed forces, an increase over past years, and 91 percent stated they feared criticizing the king, the royal court and members of the royal family. The judicial system, tribal leaders, and religion are also sensitive topics.11
According to the CDFJ survey, the percentage of respondents who believed media professionals avoided discussing sex-related topics in 2016 increased drastically, reaching 84.2 percent, the highest level in seven years. Additionally, avoidance of religious issues in the last year increased by 10 percentage points to 83.1 percent. The survey pointed to growing threats from violent religious extremists against journalists as the main cause, in addition to the assassination of writer Nahed Hattar by an extremist in 2016.
The online information landscape continues to be limited by direct bans on reporting on certain topics, especially at critical moments. For instance, after the shooting of Hattar, the State Security Court banned all forms of publication regarding the case, to “preserve the secrecy of the investigation in the public’s interest,” according to a circular from the Media Commission.12
In the second half of 2016, two gag orders limiting independent coverage about the armed forces and the king were issued. On September 1, all media outlets were banned from reporting news about the king and the royal family, unless obtained from official bulletins released by the Royal Hashemite Court.13 On November 30, the Media Commission banned publication of any reports about the Jordan Armed Forces, except for statements made by its media spokesperson. The order covered social media networks and other websites, supposedly in the "public interest."14
Facebook and YouTube are among the top ten visited websites in Jordan.15 As of April 2016, 89 percent of all social media users in Jordan used Facebook, while 71 percent used WhatsApp.16 In March 2017, King Abdullah launched a personal Twitter account.17 Other state leaders and institutions have established social media channels to communicate with the public, like the Royal Hashemite Court, 18 the Crown Prince,19 and Queen Rania, who has millions of followers on Twitter and Instagram.20 Forbes Middle East has described her as “The Queen of Social Media.”21
Several online campaigns called for boycotting different goods in protest against recent economic policies in 2017. In February, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology suggested imposing a monthly fee on the use of several messaging apps, including Viber and WhatsApp, spurring an online campaign named “Sakker Khattak” (Shut off your phone line). Campaigners called citizens to boycott telecommunication companies for half a day,22 the National Society for Consumer Protection (NSCP) asked the government to look for alternatives,23 and the Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA) called on the government to respect net neutrality and user rights.24
Also in February, the Facebook group “Jordanian Boycott Campaign,” which called for a boycott of eggs and potatoes due to price increases, gathered more than 1.3 million followers.25 Consumption of eggs dropped by 15 percent and prices were subsequently lowered to pre-boycott levels, while a price ceiling was imposed by the government.26 Another boycott campaign was started by social media activists who urged motorists not to refuel their cars to protest against gas price hikes.27
In October 2016, a coalition of activists and civil society organized a protest considered to be the largest since 2012. Demonstrators demanded the cancellation of a gas deal between the state-owned National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) and suppliers of Israeli gas.28 For several weeks, campaign organizers called for participants to shut off power in periodic hour-long blackouts. Pictures of darkened or candle-light towns flooded social media, while the Arabic hashtags used by the campaign, which translate as “the enemy’s gas is occupation,” and “switch off the lights,” were trending in the Jordanian Twittersphere.29
- 1AmmanNet, “Statement issued by AmmanNet website,” [In Arabic], August 18, 2016, http://ar.ammannet.net/news/273208.
- 2Al-Quds Al-Arabi, “Jordan blocks a website because of a news article about the arrest of a retired military,” [In Arabic], January 21, 2017, http://www.alquds.co.uk/?p=663076.
- 3Khaled Majali, “Closing of Kull al Urdun is a National Duty,” Kull al Urdun [In Arabic], January 21, 2017, http://bit.ly/2pFw2DW
- 4Reem Al-Masri, “In Jordan, the “Invisible Hand” Blocks Internet Archive,”, 7iber, April 10, 2017, https://www.7iber.com/technology/the-invisible-hand-blocks-Internet-arc….
- 5Jordanian Media Monitor, Amended Press & Publications Law No. 32 of 2012, August 2013, http://bit.ly/1zqh8ig.
- 6Sawsan Zaideh, “The Jordan Press Association: A Monopoly by Law”, 7iber, February 16, 2015, http://bit.ly/1zhSXSw.
- 7Jordanian Media Monitor, Amended Press & Publications Law No. 32 of 2012, August 2013, http://bit.ly/1zqh8ig.
- 8Jordanian Media Monitor, Amended Press & Publications Law No. 32 of 2012, August 2013, http://bit.ly/1zqh8ig.
- 9In a discussion about the impact of website licensing and the PPL, publisher of news website JO24 Basel Okour said that they stopped allowing comments on their website in protest of the law and to protect the privacy of their readers. See ”An Open Meeting at 7iber to Discuss the State of Online Journalism After the Website Registration Requirement,” [in Arabic], YouTube video, 1:43:44, posted by Jordan Days, December 8, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjUkvuRcBlI.
- 10Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, “Prohibition on Publication: Media Freedom Status in Jordan 2016”, May 2, 2017, .
- 11“DPP Brings Down Media Freedom in Jordan,” Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, May 3, 2014, http://bit.ly/1Nd4opP.
- 12“Gag order bans coverage of Jordanian writer news,” Jordan News Agency (Petra), September 26, 2016, http://bit.ly/2qts300.
- 13“Amman bans independent coverage of Jordan's royal family,” Middle East Eye, September 1, 2016, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/jordan-bans-media-publishing-about-ro….
- 14“Gag order bans publication of army news,” Jordan News Agency (Petra), November 30, 2016, http://bit.ly/2qGNI1a.
- 15Alexa, “Top Sites in Jordan,” accessed on May 2, 2017, http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/JO.
- 16“Facebook, WhatsApp Overshadow Twitter in Jordan’s Social Media Sphere,” Jordan Times, April 13, 2016, http://bit.ly/2bBODMQ.
- 17King Abdullah II Official Website, “King launches personal Twitter account,” March 26, 2017, https://kingabdullah.jo/en/news/king-launches-personal-twitter-account.
- 18Royal Hashemite Court Instagram Page, http://instagram.com/rhcjo.
- 19King Abudullah II Bin Al Hussein Instagram Page, http://instagram.com/alhusseinbinabdullahii .
- 20Queen Rania Al Abdullah Twitter Page, https://twitter.com/QueenRania; Queen Rania Al Abdullah Instagram, http://bit.ly/1iVLx62.
- 21Abderrahim Etouil, “Queen of Social Media,” Forbes Middle East, July 1, 2011, http://bit.ly/1KMPUv0.
- 22“Jordan arrests organiser of phone boycott campaign,” Middle East Eye, February 2, 2017, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/jordan-arrests-man-organizing-social-….
- 23“NSCP calls on the government to move away from citizen's pocket,” [in Arabic], al-Ghad, January 24, 2017, http://bit.ly/2p9O6UP.
- 24Jordan Open Source Association, “The Jordan Open Source Association warns against imposing fees on messaging apps,” [in Arabic], January 23, 2017, http://opinions.jordanopensource.org/post/102.
- 25Rana Husseini, “One of administrators of Facebook page calling for boycotts detained,” Jordan Times, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/one-administrators-facebook-page-….
- 26Zaid Ad-Dabisiyah, “The Potato Revolution motivates Jordanians to expand the boycott of high-priced goods,” al-Araby al-Jadeed [in Arabic], February 1, 2017.
- 27Hana Namrouqa, “Social media activists urging weekend fuel boycott,” Jordan Times, February 2, 2017, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/social-media-activists-urging-wee….
- 28Zena Tahhan, “Jordanians reject 'stolen gas' in Israel-Jordan deal,” Al Jazeera, October 3, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/jordanians-reject-stolen-gas-isra….
- 29Amira Howeidy, “The enemy’s gas is occupation,” Ahram Weekly, Issue 1315, October 13 -19, 2016, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/17545.aspx.
Several journalists were arrested for their online activities under a problematic cybersecurity law. The intelligence bureau detained a group of teachers, former security officials, and activists for almost one month due to social media posts that were critical of the bureau’s handling of a terrorist attack. A religious extremist assassinated Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar as he was due to face trial for inciting sectarianism over a cartoon mocking the so-called Islamic State. In the aftermath, several users were arrested for hate speech and extremism. Also, the state-owned news agency was hacked in order to post false news regarding Saudi’s deputy crown prince.
Although Jordan’s constitution contains some theoretical protections for free speech online, in practice, several laws contain disproportionate or unnecessary restrictions. Jordan’s penal code forbids any insult of the royal family, state institutions, national symbols, foreign states, and “any writing or speech that aims at or results in causing sectarian or racial strife.” Defamation is also a criminal offense.1
Several constitutional amendments introduced in September 2011 directly or indirectly touched on internet freedom. Specifically, terms such as “mass media” and “other means of communication,” which likely encompass online media, were added to provisions that protect freedom of expression and concomitantly allow for its limitation during states of emergency (Article 15). With regard to the right to privacy, judicial approval was added as a precondition for censorship or confiscation of private communications (Article 18).2 Despite the passage of the Access to Information Law in 2007, a number of restrictions remain on requesting sensitive social and religious content.3
In January 2017, the government called for the adoption of a “social media law” to limit hate speech and incitement online,4 and in September 2017 suggested a series of amendments to the cybercrime law to explicitly cover hate speech, defined as “any statement or act that would incite discord, religious, sectarian, ethnic or regional strife or discrimination between individuals or groups.”5 An “internet police” unit was launched to fight cybercrime, including online activities that could foment sectarian or religious strife, a criminal offense in Jordan.6
In June 2015, the amended Cybercrime Law No 27 came into effect with at least one provision that poses a serious threat to online freedom. According to Article 11, internet users can face a jail term of no less than three months and a maximum fine of JOD 2,000 (US$ 2,800), if they are found guilty of defamation on social media or online media outlets. In practical terms, this means journalists face harsher penalties online than in print media, since the Press and Publications Law prohibits the jailing of journalists. In 2015, the Law Interpretation Bureau issued a ruling that Article 11 supersedes other legislation, rendering journalists’ immunity that is safeguarded by the Press and Publications Law irrelevant.7 Thus, journalists may now be tried for print articles if those articles appear online.8 In March 2016, a group of journalists and activists launched a campaign, titled “Talking Is Not a Crime,” calling Article 11 “unconstitutional” as it undermines freedom of expression as safeguarded by the Jordanian constitution.9 According to the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, at least seven journalists and activists were detained in the first year after the passage of the amendment.10
Many older laws continue to pose a threat to access to information and free expression online. These include the 1959 Contempt of Court Law, the 1960 penal code, the 1971 Protection of State Secrets and Classified Documents Law, the 1992 Defense Law, the 1998 Jordan Press Association Law, and the 1999 Press and Publications Law.
Amendments to the Press and Publication Law enacted in 2010 abolished prison sentences for libel against private citizens (as opposed to public officials). However, fines and jail sentences remain for defaming government officials, with penalties to up to JOD 10,000 (US$14,000) and 3 to 12 months’ imprisonment.11 Further amendments passed in 2012 banned the publication of “material that is inconsistent with the principles of freedom, national obligation, human rights, and Arab-Islamic values.”12 Article 38 of the PPL also prohibits any “contempt, slander, or defamation of or abuse of” religions or prophets. The same article prohibits the publication of any material that is defamatory or slanderous of public officials, who are also protected by the same law against “rumors” and “anything that hinders their personal freedom.”13 Journalists, website owners, and editors-in-chief face a fine of JOD 5,000 (US$7,500) if found to violate the law. In addition, civil defamation suits against private individuals can result in fines of between JOD 500 to 1,000 (US$700 to 1,400).14
In early 2014, a law was passed to limit the powers of the quasi-military State Security Court, to terrorism, espionage, drug felonies, treason, and currency counterfeiting. The court had previously tried citizens and journalists for crimes related to freedom of expression.15 Worryingly, amendments to an antiterrorism law passed in mid-2014 essentially reversed that move by expanding the definition of “terrorism” to include broader offenses.16 In addition to more legitimate offenses such as attacking members of the royal court or provoking an “armed rebellion,” the definition of terrorist activities now includes any acts that “threaten the country’s relations to foreign states or expose the country or its citizens to retaliatory acts on them or their money,” an offense that had already been listed in the penal code.17 The law also explicitly penalizes the use of ICTs to promote, support, or fund terrorist acts, or to subject “Jordanians or their property to danger of hostile acts or acts of revenge.”18
Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities
Arrests and prosecutions for online activities increased during the coverage period. Ziad Neserat,19 Muhammad Qaddah,20 and several other journalists were arrested on defamation charges related to Facebook posts under the cybercrime law, while a group of individuals were detained for criticizing the intelligence services.
In August 2016, prominent leftist writer Nahed Hattar was arrested after sharing a cartoon of unknown authorship on Facebook that was deemed offensive to Islam. The cartoon features a “bearded man in heaven, smoking and in bed with women, asking God to bring him wine and cashews.”21 Prime Minister Hani Mulki ordered the Interior Minister to investigate complaints about the image. The government-run Ifta Department, which is responsible for issuing religious edicts, also published a statement condemning any group that insults Islam, religious symbols, and divinity. Hattar, a Christian, later apologized on Facebook and clarified that the cartoon was meant to mock the so-called Islamic State (IS or Daesh) and their vision of God, rather than Islam. Article 150 of the penal code bans contempt for religion.
One month later, Hattar was shot dead by an extremist outside the court where he was due to appear (see Intimidation and Violence). His family blamed the government for failing to prosecute extremists who had called for his killing on social media under laws that ban inciting violence.22
Several arrests for online hate speech followed; many appeared to involve violent threats.23 Sixteen people were arrested after the assassination, including individuals who used social media to spread sectarianism and hate speech, according to a police statement. But online abuse regarding the case continued. A social media page was started calling for the release of the murderer,24 and extremists continued to send messages encouraging violence on WhatsApp, a violation of Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a signatory.25 At least three more were arrested in October.26
Other detentions for online speech were reported during the coverage period, including some involving criticism of the government. The General Intelligence Directorate (GID or mukhabarat) arrested between 18 and 20 individuals in January 2017 on charges of lèse majesté and "incitement to undermine the political regime of Jordan using social media" for posting antigovernment statements online, according to their lawyers. The group included retired army and intelligence generals, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition group, and 10 members of a teachers’ syndicate. According to their lawyers, the accused criticized the government response to a terrorist attack in the town of Karak and some called for the firing of the head of the GID.27 The individuals were detained for nearly one month and were set to be tried by the State Security Court (SSC). After pressure from family members and supporters of the accused, they were released without charge in February.28
At least one journalist was detained in relation to an allegedly defamatory post on social media. After a complaint by Zaki Bani Irsheid, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, journalist Amjad Mualla was detained on January 30, 2017; he was released on bail in mid-February.29 According to reports, he published a Facebook post accusing Bani Irsheid of promoting IS’ policies and representing the wali (deputy) of the IS leader in Jordan. Mualla stated the move was part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s policy of silencing journalists who oppose their views.30
On January 31, 2017, Essam Zabin, a retired lieutenant-colonel in the air force and one of the administrators of a Facebook group that called for boycotting goods to protest price hikes, was also detained by the GID.31 He was held in prison for one week before being released without charge.32
In January 2017, 12 individuals were prosecuted and four others investigated for online hate speech after a terrorist attack on an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve, during which two Jordanians were killed.33 Finding that the case related to libel of private persons and not terrorism, the SSC referred the case to a civil prosecutor as a violation of Article 11 of the cybercrime law.34
In October 2016, one member of the Jordanian Teachers’ Syndicate in Jerash was detained for publishing a post on Facebook in which he expressed his refusal to implement changes to the school curriculum despite a complaint filed by the Minister of Education.35 He was released on bail on the same day.
Zain Karazon, a popular singer and social media figure, was arrested in September 2016 at the Amman airport as she returned from overseas. She was accused of slander for a Snapchat video in which she responded to her critics “in an inappropriate manner,” according to reports.36 Karazon’s sister said the singer was harassed online after exposing malpractice at a local hospital. She was released one week later.
Similar to monitoring hate speech, Jordanian authorities continue to monitor the online activities of IS supporters. Several individuals, including37 women,38 have been arrested39 and in some cases sentenced to prison for promoting or supporting the terrorist organization through social media posts or in private electronic messages.40 There were no indications any of these individuals had been targeted for speech normally protected under international norms.
Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity
Article 18 of the constitution protects the right to privacy, but allows for surveillance “by a judicial order in accordance with the provisions of the law.” The telecommunication law requires that operators take appropriate measures to allow for the tracking of communication upon a judicial or administrative order, while an antiterrorism law allows for the prosecutor general to order surveillance upon receiving “reliable information… a person or group of persons is connected to any terrorist activity.”41
Jordan currently lacks a privacy law. The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MoICT) is currently drafting a Data Protection Law that aims to regulate how personal data are collected, used and published. The last draft of the law, however, does not ensure the independence of the proposed Data Protection Authority (DPA) and does not always follow best international standards for protection of personal data.
There have been no reports about restrictions on VPNs and other circumvention tools, nor any limits on encryption. However, many Jordanians reportedly have a long-standing belief that “someone is listening in” to their phone calls. This attitude has carried over to the internet, where it is believed that security services closely monitor online comments, cataloging them by date, internet protocol (IP) address, and location.42
Since mid-2010, cybercafes have been obliged to install security cameras to monitor customers, who must supply personal identification information before they use the internet. Cafe owners are required to retain the browsing history of users for at least six months.43 Authorities claim these restrictions are necessary for security reasons. Although enforcement is somewhat lax, the once-thriving cybercafe business is now in decline due in part to the restrictions, as well as increased access to personal internet connections. According to a report by Privacy International, representatives from various intelligence and government ministries regularly inspect internet cafes for compliance. Internet cafes are by law required “to take all procedures and arrangements” to ensure customers are not accessing terrorist-related material, without specifying what types of actions would be legally permissible. Furthermore, clauses within mobile phone contracts give Jordanian companies the right to terminate services should customers use it in any way “threatening to public moral or national security.”44
Intimidation and Violence
On September 25, 2016, Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar was shot dead outside of a courthouse in Amman, where he was due to face trial for posting a satirical cartoon deemed “offensive to Islam” on his Facebook page (See “Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities”).45 Hattar, a Christian who had expressed his support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, explained the cartoon “mocks terrorists and their concept of God and heaven.”46 Thousands of Jordanians expressed their solidarity with Hattar’s family, demanding an end to hate speech and incitement to violence online.
Journalists are regularly subject to harassment from state and nonstate actors, particularly when investigating corruption. For example, after journalist Amal Ghabayen published an article on one of the country’s most popular news websites, Ammon News, regarding the alleged appropriation of a state-owned piece of land in West Amman by a high-ranking official in the army, she was threatened by phone and told “she will pay” for the article. She fled Jordan and was granted political asylum in Turkey.47 Online journalists reporting on protests are also intimidated by security forces. A police officer threatened to break the cell phone of Dana Gibreel, a journalist from 7iber, in November 2016 during a sit-in against a gas agreement with Israel.48
Methodology questions and scoring
Incidents of cyberattacks against bloggers and staff of online news websites have decreased in severity compared to previous years. However, geopolitical tensions have resulted in the hacking of state news sites. In June 2016, the state-owned news agency, Petra, confirmed their website was affected by a cyberattack.49 Hackers posted a fabricated news story regarding the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Officials claimed Iranian hackers were behind the attack.50
In February 2011 Ammon News, was hacked and temporarily disabled after its editors refused to comply with security agents’ demands to remove a statement by 36 prominent Jordanian tribesmen, in which they called for democratic and economic reforms. Among other actions, the hackers deleted the joint statement, which were politically sensitive given the groups’ historic support for the monarchy.51 In 2012, the webpages of the news sites Khaberni and Al Ain were hacked; the site of the Jordanian rap group Ahat was also hacked on September 15, 2012.52
- 1Human Rights Watch, “Jordan: A Poetic Security Threat,” September 3, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/news/2010/09/03/jordan-poetic-security-threat.
- 2Constitution of Jordan, January 1, 1952, http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/constitution_jo.html.
- 3For example, the law bars public requests for information involving religious, racial, ethnic, or gender discrimination (Article 10), and allows officials to withhold all types of classified information, a very broad category (Article 13) see, Arab Archives Institute, “Summary of the Study on Access to Information Law in Jordan,” June 2005, http://www.alarcheef.com/reports/englishFiles/accessToInformation.pdf.
- 4Suzanna Goussous, “Law to combat hate speech could harm freedom of expression, activists warn,” Jordan Times, January 9, 2017, http://bit.ly/2qd4rbS.
- 5Abdul Razzaq Abu Hazeem, “Amendments to Cyber-crime Law Include definition of hate speech”, Al-Rai, [in Arabic], September 29, 2017, http://bit.ly/2hIB5jA.
- 6“Police Launch Online Patrols,” [in Arabic], al-Ghad, November 26, 2016, http://bit.ly/2rLYaFb.
- 7International Press Institute, “Jordan’s Online Media at stake”, 2015, http://bit.ly/1SCa4qQ.
- 8Daoud Kuttab, “Losing the Arab Spring accomplishments?,” Jordan Times, March 9, 2016, http://bit.ly/1oXWIgS.
- 9“Jordan: Talking is Not a Crime.. A Campaign to Repeal Article 11 of Cybercrime Law”, Al Araby Al Jadeed [in Arabic], March 5, 2016 http://bit.ly/1T4jjTR.
- 10Maher Shwabkeh, “a Campaign in Jordan to Protect Freedoms”, [in Arabic], Al Hayat, April 3, 2016, http://bit.ly/1WrZ5Gl.
- 11Jordan Media Strengthening Program, Introduction to News Media Law and Policy in Jordan, May 2011, pg 38, http://bit.ly/1F79kKt.
- 12The Press and Publications Law 1998 amended by Law No. 32.
- 13Law number (32) 2012. Amendments to The Press and Publications law for the Year 1998 (8), Article 38, clauses A, B, C & D.
- 14The Press and Publications Law 1998 amended by Law No. 32.
- 15Human Rights Watch, “Jordan: End Trials of Persecutors Undermining Regime,” October 29, 2013, http://bit.ly/1hEq94a.
- 16Human Rights Watch “Jordan: Terrorism Amendments Threaten Rights,” May, 17, 2014, http://bit.ly/Rhgpzz, and “Royal Endorsement of Anti-Terrorism Law,”[in Arabic] Gerasa News, June 1, 2014, http://bit.ly/1N5YSnh.
- 17Anti-Terrorism law –No 18 2014 Article 3 (b), http://bit.ly/1trDOKp.
- 18Reporters Without Borders, “King urged to repeal draconian changes to anti-terrorism law,” June 16, 2014, http://bit.ly/1UvoACc.
- 19Skeyes Media, “Jordanian police arrests journalist Ziad Neserat at airport for publication case,” December 10, 2016, http://www.skeyesmedia.org/ar/News/Jordan/6162.
- 20“Arrest of journalist Mohammed Qaddah in Marka Prison,” AmmanNet, December 26, 2016, http://ar.ammannet.net/news/278469.
- 21Mohammad Ghazal, “Writer turns himself in after cartoon sparks outrage,” Jordan Times, August 13, 2016, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/writer-turns-himself-after-cartoo….
- 22Peter Beaumont, “Jordanian writer shot dead as he arrives at trial for insulting Islam,” The Guardian, September 25, 2016, http://bit.ly/2dqWif5.
- 23Hasan Shobaki, “Jordan pursues "instigators" in social networking platforms,” [In Arabic] Al Jazeera, http://bit.ly/2duASQa.
- 24Rana Husseini, “Police continue crackdown on hate speech online,” Jordan Times, September 29, 2016, http://jordantimes.com/news/local/police-continue-crackdown-hate-speech….
- 25Article 20(2) states: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx.
- 26General Security Department, “Cybercrime Unit arrests a number of provokers on social media,” [In Arabic], October 5, 2016, http://bit.ly/2pLgrmg.
- 27Ali Younes, “Jordan cracks down on activists over social media posts,” Al Jazeera, January 18, 2017, http://bit.ly/2jDa0AJ.
- 28Ali Younes, “Jordanian activists released after spy agency crackdown,” Al Jazeera English, February 8, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/jordanian-activists-released-spy-….
- 29Rana Husseini, “Journalist bailed, awaiting trial for ‘slander’ of top Brotherhood official,” Jordan Times, February 15, 2017, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/journalist-bailed-awaiting-trial-….
- 30Sahar Al-Qasem, “Detention of journalist Amjad Maalla on charges of insulting the Bani Irsheid,” AmmonNews, January 30, 2017, http://www.ammonnews.net/article/298852.
- 31“Jordan arrests organiser of phone boycott campaign,” Middle East Eye, February 2, 2017, http://bit.ly/2kqbPPS.
- 32“Nassar: Secret services release the creator of the boycott page, Essam Zabin” [in Arabic], AmmanNet, February 2, 2017, http://ar.ammannet.net/news/281346.
- 33“Jordan to charge 12 in online abuse of Turkey attack victims,” Associated Press, January 6, 2017, http://apne.ws/2qyuC0U.
- 34“Hate speech suspects to be tried before civil court,” Jordan Times, January 9, 2017, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/hate-speech-suspects-be-tried-civ….
- 35Jordan Teachers’ Syndicate, “Security forces arrest a teacher in Jerash because of a Facebook post,” October 19, 2016, http://bit.ly/2pL21m3.
- 36Rana Husseini, “Sister of Jordanian singer detained over video posted on social media,” Jordan Times, September 24, 2016, http://bit.ly/2pe5TLr.
- 37“First alleged female Daesh supporter on trial,” Jordan Times, April 19, 2017, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/first-alleged-female-daesh-suppor….
- 38“Security Court looks at case of a lady and a girl who promoted Daesh,” [In Arabic], Al-Ghad, May 3, 2017, http://bit.ly/2pQzGNq.
- 39“Security Court looks at case of female Daesh supporter,” [In Arabic], Jordan News Agency (Petra), April 26, 2017, http://bit.ly/2pM1su0.
- 40“Court jails six over terror charges,” Jordan Times, March 1, 2017, http://jordantimes.com/news/local/court-jails-six-over-terror-charges.
- 41Privacy International, “State of Privacy Jordan,” June 28, 2017, https://www.privacyinternational.org/node/973.
- 42Information and Research Center at King Hussein Foundation & 7iber, “Digital Privacy in Jordan: Perceptions and Implications among Human Rights Actors”, 2015 http://bit.ly/1WrGA51.
- 43International Freedom of Expression Exchange, “Cyber crime law attacks free expression; Internet cafés monitored,” news release, August 18, 2010, http://www.ifex.org/jordan/2010/08/18/cyber_cafe/; “Interior requires Internet cafes to install surveillance cameras and keep Internet visits for months” [in Arabic], Saraya News, June 3, 2010, http://www.sarayanews.com/object-article/view/id/23211.
- 44Eye on Media, “Declining Freedom, Restrictions on the Internet and a Financial Crisis,” December 25, 2013, http://bit.ly/1KN2GcQ.
- 45“Writer turns himself in after cartoon sparks outrage,” Jordan Times, August 13, 2016, http://bit.ly/2bfjr2d.
- 46“Jordan: Nahed Hattar shot dead ahead of cartoon trial,” Al Jazeera, September 26, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/jordan-nahed-hattar-shot-dead-car….
- 47Ali Al-Sunaid MP, “The secret behind the request of political asylum by journalist Amal Ghabayen,” JO24, May 23, 2016, http://www.jo24.net/post.php?id=170919.
- 48“Condemnation related to arrests of participants in a sit-in against the gas agreement,” [in Arabic], AmmanNet, November 12, 2016, http://ar.ammannet.net/news/276607.
- 49“Statement by Jordan News Agency (Petra),” Jordan News Agency (Petra), June 13, 2016, http://bit.ly/21jdDrL.
- 50“Petra news agency hacked, attributes false comments to Saudi Prince,” Al Arabiya English, June 14, 2016, http://bit.ly/2ps5KTW.
- 51Committee to Protect Journalists, “In Jordan, website hacked after running sensitive statement,” February 9, 2011, http://cpj.org/x/416b.
- 52Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, Press and Cultural Freedom in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine – Annual Report 2012, 2013, http://foundationforfuture.org/en/Portals/0/Grantees%20Publications/SKe….
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Global Freedom Score33 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score47 100 partly free