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Gov’t withdraws cybercrime bill; move met with praise

Judicial process for hate speech, spreading rumours and fake news to be revised

By JT - Dec 10,2018 - Last updated at Dec 10,2018

AMMAN — The government on Sunday said it will withdraw the cybercrime draft law, which was referred to the Lower House by the previous government.

In a press conference, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Government Spokesperson Jumana Ghunaimat said that the move comes after a request was made for the bill’s withdrawal by Lower House Speaker Atef Tarawneh, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported. 

She added that the government’s decision also responds to calls made by civil society actors and representatives of political parties and professional associations, voiced during meetings with Prime Minister Omar Razzaz.

The cybercrime draft law will be revised and redrafted in accordance with relevant laws already in force, Ghunaimat added. 

Earlier in the day, Tarawneh called on the government to withdraw the amended cybercrime draft law and reopen dialogue on its provisions to ensure they they do not undermine public freedoms, which are safeguarded by the Constitution.

Tarawneh noted that the government should reconsider its stance on the draft law in light of the public’s criticism of the bill.

The government will reexamine the judicial process for crimes of hate speech and spreading rumours and fake news, according to the minister, who noted that Cabinet members will also study whether Article 11 of the current law could be amended to make sure it conforms with the Constitution and international standards.

The article in question stipulates a penalty of no less than three-month imprisonment and a fine of no less than JD100 and no more than JD2,000 for intentionally sending, resending or publishing information that slanders, disparages or insults an individual on the Internet. 

The government will consult with relevant authorities and a number of experts and specialists during its reconsideration of the amended bill, to be resent to Parliament, Ghunaimat said.

The Jordan Press Association (JPA) described the move as a “step that fosters democracy and freedom of expression”. 

The JPA on Sunday called for opening dialogue regarding the bill and redrafting it in a way that ensures freedom of the press and respects the right of all to express their opinion objectively and professionally. 

The Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) also voiced its appreciation for Tarawneh’s call for withdrawing the bill, as well as for the government’s response, saying “it is an appreciated step made by the legislative and executive authorities that is in line with the Kingdom’s interests”, according to a statement by CDFJ.

CEO of the CDFJ Nedal Mansour said that this decision would contribute to “defusing tension”, as withdrawing the cybercrime bill was at the top of protesters’ demands. 

Among other demands, the protesters who rallied near the Fourth Circle over the weekend called for the withdrawal of the controversial bill, claiming it aims at “suppressing opinions”.

A social media campaign was also launched last month under the banner “#withdraw_cybercrime_law”, describing the new bill as “a crackdown on freedom of expression”.

Experts and activists criticised the amendments of the bill in previous remarks to The Jordan Times, citing a “loose” definition to hate speech, privacy concerns and conflict with other laws that already stipulate penalties for crimes listed in the bill.

The UN’s Human Rights Council also voiced its unease regarding some articles in the bill at Jordan’s Universal Periodic Review, of which freedom of expression and the cybercrime law was a major issue of concern.

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