Jordanian journalists on Wednesday demonstrated near the royal palace in protest at a “repressive” government decision to block 290 unlicensed local news websites.
“We gathered today to tell King Abdullah II that the government’s repressive decision violates the constitution,” Nasser Lafi, editor of Busala, or compass, news website, told AFP.
“This move harms Jordan’s reputation.”
Dozens of journalists carried banners that read “no to the assassination of the media,” and “fight the corruption instead of blocking news websites,” as they demonstrated in an area close to the royal place in western Amman.
On June 3, a government source said 290 of around 400 local news websites would be blocked “for failing to obtain necessary licensing,” under a law approved last year.
The Press and Publication Department (PPD) has insisted “the decision does not seek to restrict freedoms,” saying “the objective is to organise the work of these websites.”
One of the demonstrators, Jomaa Wahsh, editor of Al-Mirsad website, said: “More protests will follow to push the government to scrap the unfair law, which violates international standards.”
Last year, amendments to the Press and Publications Law authorised the government to regulate “electronic publications,” requiring them to obtain registration and licensing from the PPD.
They also stipulate that website chief editors must be members of the Jordan Press Association.
Fayez Shawabkeh, head of the PPD, said around 150 news websites are expected to obtain licenses by Thursday.
“Many of them have changed their registration from news websites to social or cultural websites, which means that the press law does not apply to them,” he said.
Human Rights Watch last Tuesday called on the government to scrap the legislation “that allows it to encroach on online media freedom.”
“The attempts to regulate online speech violate Jordan’s constitutional free expression guarantees,” it said.