The authorities in Jordan are likely to intensify censorship and efforts to arbitrarily harass people over online content over the coming year.
This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 4 August 2023.
- We have raised our personal cyber risk level for Jordan from moderate to high
- A proposed cybercrime bill will further enable the authorities to detain or arrest people over perceived harmful online content
- We assess that journalists, media workers and activists are most at risk of online surveillance, as well as device and data compromise
The authorities in Jordan are likely to intensify censorship and efforts to arbitrarily harass people over online content over the coming year. The King will almost certainly approve a bill that will further enable the authorities to detain or arrest online users over content that they perceive as insulting or harmful to national interests. We assess that state surveillance and detention risks (including from online activities) remain most acute for journalists (including foreigners) and activists. But anyone who engages with online content critical of the state is also likely to be at greater exposure to such risks than before.
New cybercrime law
Cybercrime legislation seems to be a priority for the state. The House of Representatives and Senate have in recent days approved the bill to amend an existing cybercrime law; the new legislation is more expansive. The government has reportedly said the amendments will help counter ‘rising online crimes’. But according to Human Rights Watch, certain articles aim to stifle criticism. For instance, the law stipulates prison terms and fines for those ‘publishing, republishing or sharing hate speech content’, such as those intended to incite sectarian or racial sedition, religious violence or undermine ‘national unity’.
A general election in Jordan due in 2024 has probably motivated the authorities to push through the amendments. In our analysis, this would be with the aim of further controlling the digital information space in the event of protests. The authorities notably banned TikTok after a spate of unrest over high fuel prices in December 2022. We anticipate that the King will approve the legislation. He and the authorities have seemed intent on stifling dissent and sensitive content in recent years; in 2021, the authorities banned social media and news outlets from publishing content related to the detention of a former crown prince.
If approved, the legislation is likely to facilitate further online censorship in Jordan. And we assess it will probably enable the authorities to act with greater impunity to arrest and detain those that they view as being critical of the state and other sensitive issues. Alongside hefty fines and prison terms for those found to be guilty, the new amendments also reportedly prohibit the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in the country. This will diminish the ability of Jordanian citizens to circumvent online censorship and access blocked websites.
Media sector a key target
The new legislation fits with a growing trend of censorship and online repression in Jordan in recent years, particularly against the media sector. Since the existing cybercrime law was first enforced in 2015, the authorities have used this to often target journalists, media workers and political activists, according to media rights groups. This includes the detention of two journalists (one Jordanian, another Palestinian) at Amman airport in March 2022. There were also other reported arrests of domestic journalists in 2020 for their Covid-19 coverage.
In the coming year, the risk of detention and device seizures by the authorities is likely to be most acute to those who criticise the King or the government, especially over sensitive issues. This is particularly journalists (including foreign ones, especially from the region), media workers and activists. But NGO workers will also probably be exposed to such risks too; one of the journalists arrested in March 2022 was reportedly a manager for a US-based nonprofit that focuses on democracy and human rights in the Middle East and North Africa.
Tight control around 2024 election
Journalists are likely to be particularly at risk of online surveillance, as well as device and data compromise, ahead of the 2024 election. A date has not yet been set. The state will almost certainly become more intent on stifling dissent and online criticism ahead of then. Topics of coverage that we assess would probably be most sensitive to the state include the economy and hardship, the state’s use of foreign aid, corruption and the royal family. To reflect this, we have raised our personal cyber risk level for Jordan from moderate to high.
Image: King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein at Palazzo Chigi to meet the premier Giorgia Meloni on 5 December 2022 in Rome, Italy. Photo by Simona Granati/Corbis via Getty Images.