Beyond cybersecurity. What’s hiding behind Jordan’s new “draconian” law?

Król Jordanii, Abdullah II, fot. Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Król Jordanii, Abdullah II

Three weeks ago, King Abdullah II approved the new law on cybercrime. Opposition, lawmakers, and human rights organisations warn that the new law targets LGBTQ+ individuals, extends state control over social media, restricts access to information, and contributes to punishing the government’s opponents

Referred to as “draconian” by non-governmental organisations, the law imposes imprisonment or fines for sharing content deemed to “promote, instigate, aiding, or inciting immorality” and demonstrating “contempt for religion” or “provoking strife”, or “undermining national unity.”

Fourteen human rights organisations and their representatives have pointed out in a joint statement that terms such as “supporting immoral behaviour” are unclear and vague. The new law gives Jordanian authorities leeway to abuse citizens’ freedom of speech and suppress opposition. The current cybercrime regulations adopted in 2015 are equally imprecise and are actively used for this purpose. The flexible interpretation of the law effectively helps the authorities control their citizens and has led to the arrest of opposition activists, social activists, and journalists.

LGBTQ+ individuals in Jordan are not safe

The new regulations impose penalties for producing, distributing, or consuming undefined “pornographic content”, which, due to its vague definition, may be used to silence the activists using digital platforms to promote LGBTQ+ rights – experts warn.

That’s what’s happening in Jordan right now: the current law has allowed the authorities to target non-heteronormative individuals for years and censor educational materials related to sexuality. “The new law will destroy all forms of LGBTQ+ expression online” and intensify “interference in people’s private lives.” – says one of the Jordanian activists.

In a 2023 report, Human Rights Watch documented the severe consequences of online attacks on LGBTQ+ individuals in the MENA region. Jordanian community members stated that they couldn’t safely share information about their sexual orientation or gender identity online and that, unfortunately, the LGBTQ+ rights advocacy has clearly suffered from the attacks.

“I was very scared and anxious for many years to come. I’d avoid state agents and would often think twice about going to public spaces” – says Ammar, a 31-year-old gay man from Jordan who was detained by Jordanian authorities for organising an LGBTQ+ rights event. His phone was taken away, he was threatened, subjected to humiliating questions, and denied toilet access for hours.

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“[After the arrest], I stopped talking to all my activist friends, and our group and solidarity networks broke off and vanished. (…) It is still traumatic for me. My partner also suffered anxiety because of the incident. He fears state agents and public spaces. (…) I stopped using all social media after being very active on such platforms before. There’s fear and a heaviness in my heart toward digital spaces that is more rampant than that related to physical ones. I can handle myself and weigh my risks when I am at a proximity to a potential danger, but I
cannot fathom nor calculate the risks that exist within digital spaces”.

Aleksandra Leks


Translated by Aleksandra Leks.


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