Jordan Web 'blackout' protest targets alleged censorship

AMMAN, Jordan -- Black Iris, 360East, and 7iber are names that may not be familiar to U.S audiences, but for the Jordanian online community they represent websites and blogs with the online presence of Daily Kos or the Huffington Post.

Although the websites' purposes and the people behind them differ, on Wednesday these and other leading Jordanian blogs and online news sites shared the same home page: A black screen.

This “blackout” campaign is an online protest against proposed changes in Jordanian laws that social media and free-press advocates call censorship under the cover of anti-pornography legislation.

Jordan's relaxed censorship laws and its relatively open Internet policy have long been credited with fostering a flourishing online community in the Middle Eastern kingdom, where King Abdullah II has publicly spoken of a Silicon Valley-like status for Jordan in the region. Nonetheless, the increasing number of online portals, many critical of Jordan’s rulers, have drawn concern from various arms of a government wary of dissent.

Nassim Tarawneh, blogger at the Jordan affairs blog "Black-Iris," writes in his post on the blackout: "Someone, somewhere, is convinced that Jordan’s online news sites need to be controlled, and that’s that. The state has spent the better part of half a decade trying to find ways to do it without coming off as the bad guy.”

The government's latest maneuver, according to critics, has been proposed anti-pornography legislation, supposedly at the behest of a Facebook group demanding official censorship of porn sites. The government has moved ahead with the drafting of amendments to the Press and Publication Law, and has now sent the bill to parliament.

Critics contend that proposals create an opportunity for censorship on the basis of ill-defined and arbitrary criteria that would apply far  beyond online pornography -- to news and general interest sites as well as sites with user-generated content. Media owners in violation of the new law would face a range of fines and penalties.

The government argues that the changes are needed to protect people, especially minors, from online pornography. Web and free-press advocates, on the other hand, say there is no shortage of self-regulation and screening tools.

Many major Jordanian websites participated in Wednesday’s “blackout,” with their homepages changed to a black screen displaying information about the campaign against the proposed changes in law.

Given the tag #BlackoutJo, the efforts attracted the attention of several high-profile figures in the kingdom, including U.S.-born Queen Noor, widow of the late King Hussein.

The queen came out strongly against censorship in a Twitter post: "Hypocrisy, lies, intolerance, hate, violence -- all unhealthy evils. Where  does it start and end. #censorship #BlackOutJO — Noor Al Hussein (@QueenNoor) August 29, 2012"

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--Nabih  Bulos

 
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