Hundreds of websites in Jordan observe blackout over SOPA-style govt internet bill

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A screenshot of jo.jeeran.com website which is taking part in the #blackoutjo online protest. Photo – Moign Khawaja/ArabianGazette.com

Jordan, tipped as the would-be “Silicon Valley of the Middle East”, on Wednesday witnessed a SOPA-inspired media blackout to protest a piece of legislation activists say could threaten that freedom in the future.

Reports said 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.

Several high-profile figures, including Queen Noor Al Hussein, have also gotten behind the effort. In a tweet she said: “Hypocrisy,lies,intolerance,hate,violence-all unhealthy evils. Where does it start and end. #censorship #BlackOutJO

Other sites participating include JeeranJo24Wamda, and BeAmman, along with hundreds of others. Oryanet, one of the protest organisers, has issued a running and possibly not complete list.

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.

The draft bill was introduced a while back and was submitted for approval last week after the cabinet 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.

Following are some of the areas covered by the draft bill, protestors insist puts Jordan in line with other countries with significantly more restrictive Internet policies, such as China and its infamous “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: Activists say 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.

Ambiguity: The provisions of the law are very ambiguous as 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.

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