Internet Filtering in Jordan in 2006-2007

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Note: a newer version of this profile is available at Country Profiles: Jordan.

Overview

Access to Internet content in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan remains largely unfettered, with filtering selectively applied to only a small number of sites. However, media laws and regulations encourage some measure of self-censorship in cyberspace, and citizens have reportedly been questioned and arrested for Web content they have authored.

Background

Watchdog organizations continue to criticize the Jordanian government’s record on human rights. In 2006, Human Rights Watch noted that “Jordanian authorities continued … to engage in practices that censor free speech,” including charging journalists under controversial articles of the Penal Code.1 Reports of prolonged detentions2 of criminals and government harassment of opposition party members3 have also surfaced. In June 2006 the government charged four parliamentarians from the Islamic Action Front (IAF) with fueling national discord and inciting sectarianism after the politicians visited the family of deceased al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.4 The constitutional monarchy has also demonstrated its willingness to silence and punish those critical of its allies.5

Internet in Jordan

Although the government provides schools with computers and encourages the growth of the Internet in Jordan,6 connectivity prices remain prohibitively high for many Jordanians.7 There are only five personal computers per hundred inhabitants, yet the country has achieved an Internet penetration rate of 12 percent—a relatively high figure for the region.8 Most of this connectivity comes through the hundreds of Internet cafés9 and community centers10 in the country. A survey of 200 Jordanians, presented in 2004, showed that the Internet serves as an important networking and communication tool, with all respondents using the Web to e-mail or chat.11

In an effort to further increase the Internet penetration rate, the government launched “Knowledge Stations” across the country in 2001. Jordanians in rural areas can access the Internet and attend courses in computers at these Stations.12 An ongoing plan called the Jordan Broadband Learning and Education Network Project aims to create an extensive educational network by linking 8 public universities, 3,200 public schools, 23 community colleges, and 75 Knowledge Stations nationwide.13

Jordan has an advanced, though expensive, telecommunications infrastructure as compared with other countries in the region.14 The telecom sector serves as a key industry for the Jordanian economy, accounting for 10 percent of the GDP.15 Since the sector was liberalized in 2004,16 private companies—in particular Wanadoo and Batelco, which together claim 83 percent of the Internet service provider (ISP) market—have overtaken the government’s share of the market.17 The government-owned National Information Technology Center (NITC) remains the exclusive registrar for the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) “.jo”.18

Legal and regulatory frameworks

Established in 1995, the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) regulates telecom and information technology services in Jordan.19 Under the Telecommunications Law of 1995, the TRC is in charge of ISP licensing and telecommunications equipment.20 Prospective ISPs must file a license application and document their financial resources, base prices, services and technologies, and geographical coverage areas.21 ISPs must supply a mechanism for handling customer complaints and may increase user fees only after notification has run for at least one full month in two local newspapers.22

To obtain a license to open an Internet café, a party must submit an application with “an organizational site plan for the location to be used.”23 The Internet Café Regulations state that records of Internet use, including personal information, should be kept and that “a special technique should be provided to block and filter the sites”24 that contain pornography or offensive religious material, that promote recreational drug use or gambling, or that show “the method of manufacturing of materials for military uses in an illegitimate manner.”25 Café patrons under thirteen years of age must be accompanied by a parent,26 and managers cannot be younger than twenty-five.27 Although the Regulations state that personal data should remain confidential,28 a café must disclose such information when the government requests it.29

The Telecommunications Law instructs ISPs to withhold access from users who have “violated public morals”30 or who use the Internet in a way that “endangers the national good,”31 but leaves these stipulations undefined. The Law also stipulates that “Any person who originates or forwards, by any telecommunications means … messages contrary to public morals, or forwards false information with the intent to spread panic, shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than one month or more than one year, or a fine … or by both penalties.”32

Article 5 of Jordan’s Press and Publications Law (1998) prohibits journalists from publishing material that goes against “national obligation … and Arab-Islamic values.”33 Article 7(e) is equally broad, forbidding the publication of anything that is “bound to stir violence or inflame discord of any form among the citizens.”34

In January 2007, Jordan's Lower House National Guidance Committee began consultations with media experts and officials about a 2006 Press and Publications Draft Law.35 Publishers and proponents of press freedom hope lawmakers will scrap provisions that set jail terms for journalists and amend articles they say restrict free expression.

ONI testing results

Testing conducted on three Jordanian ISPs—Batelco, Wanadoo, and Linkdotnet—showed no definitive blocking, though some filtering of political content is suspected given inconsistencies in the accessibility of certain sites.

www.ArabTimes.com, a politically oriented news site that is sometimes critical of Arab leaders, was found to be inaccessible on Batelco and Wanadoo but was accessible via Linkdotnet. Though this finding does not constitute proof of filtering, it is worth noting, as the Web site was reportedly blocked in 2004.36

Conclusion

Jordanians appear to enjoy essentially unfiltered access to Internet content. However, the Press and Publications Law’s broad provisions may lead some writers to engage in self-censorship. Although Jordan’s government continues to develop initiatives to expand access to the Internet, laws restricting freedom of speech preserve an intimidating atmosphere that discourages free discourse on political and social issues.