Aida Al-Kaisy

9th April 2018


Journalists in Jordan fear that government plans to revise the country’s Cybercrimes law are simply a means to crack down on the media.

The revisions, proposed by Jordan’s Legislation and Opinion Bureau to the 2015 Cybercrimes law, attempt to define hate speech. The amendments recommend the criminalisation of online hate speech, based on a very sweeping meaning of the term, which could lead to harsh penalties and extortionate fines.

One cartoonist accused of “hate crimes” has already been shot dead on the steps of the courtroom where he was due to stand trial. Nahed Hattar, was assassinated in September 2016, by a member of the public outside the courtroom in which he was standing trial for the crime of ‘inciting sectarian strife and racism’ for a cartoon he had shared portraying dead jihadist Abu Saleh giving orders to God.

Despite issuing an apology for causing any insult and a full explanation of the cartoon as a critique of terrorism rather than Islam, the Jordanian government went ahead with the prosecution.

While a date for Parliamentary debate of the amendments to the Cybercrimes law is still to be confirmed, many journalists in Jordan are alarmed by the hate speech amendment and the harm they believe it will bring. And it may have regional consequences.

As in many other countries of the Middle East, Jordan has an increasingly complex and draconian legislative environment governing the media, which has seen numerous journalists wrongly accused and even imprisoned.

Reem Al–Masri, the internet governance and digital rights editor for Jordanian website 7iber told the Committee to Protect Journalists, “The state charged Hattar with blasphemy for sharing a cartoon, thus playing a role in positioning him as a criminal and creating an environment where calls inciting to his murder were tolerated. If the state had been serious about reducing damages caused by hate speech, it should have gone after the speech that eventually led to his crime, rather than after the solution that got them popular support. None of those who directly called for Hattar’s murder were prosecuted.”

Jordan is not alone in the region for its use of Cybercrimes laws in order to stifle freedom of the press under the guise of cracking down on hate speech and protecting citizens. Similar laws in countries such as the UAE, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are being put to effect. A lack of agreement over what constitutes hate speech across the region, even globally, is seeing more governments turn to counter-terrorism legislation as a means of suppressing the media and activists worldwide.

The difficulties in defining and identifying hate speech in the media have been recognised by the Ethical Journalism Network. The EJN five-point test has been developed in order to provide journalists, policymakers and legislators with a tool kit that will enable them to make more informed decisions about how to recognise and approach hate speech.

The EJN has developed a programme of work aimed at supporting journalists working in the Middle East and North Africa through the creation and facilitation of the Arab Media Hub Against Hate Speech. A number of events over the last three years have brought together media practitioners, CSOs and academics to discuss best practice to address hate speech in the region. A series of meetings and seminars held in Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan have explored possibilities to challenge hate speech across the Arab media.

Photo by Yazan Obeidat on Unsplash

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