Jordan’s Own Internet Freedom Tent

Jordan’s Own Internet Freedom Tent

After amendments to the Press and Publications law have been ratified, journalists organized a "Freedom Tent" as a sign of protest. Mohammad Tarakiyee reports from inside the tent about thoughts, opinions and activities of participants against the new law.

For the past 23 days in a row, a normally empty piece of land on one of Amman’s busiest main streets has become the daily meeting place of Jordanian journalists, opposition figures, and trade union activists, united by their opposition to the recently ratified Press and Publications Law. For two hours every day, activists and political figures speak out in ardent defence of Internet freedoms, a defence coming from relatively new support base of Internet freedom, which speaks volumes of the pivotal role the Internet has come to play in modern Jordanian civil society.

The protest tent was erected in response to the ratification of the highly controversial Press and Publications law. For the past decade, Jordan has undergone a massive transformation that aimed to poise it as a leader of the ICT sector in the region. By mantaining a mostly unrestricted Internet, and working hard to improve access to it, the local ICT sector grew to represent 14% of Jordan’s GDP and provide thousands of jobs to young Jordanians.

The fruits of improved Internet penetration eventually reached other sectors, creating a vibrant news websites community, offering instant updates, and often giving fresher and more alternative voices in society a platform that traditional press media wasn’t able to provide. With more than 270 reported Jordanian news websites, the government claims that the sector is in dire need of regulation, therefore the need for the new law. Opponents of the law claim that the main purpose of the law is to curb freedoms and to silence free press.

The tent has become an attraction to many opposition figures, writers, artists and trade union activists. Many journalists spoke of the importance of free press as a frontline defence against rampant corruption. Dr. Ahmad Abu Ghnamieh, a writer, said, “this tent isn’t only for online reporters, it is for all freedom-seeking Jordanians.” Nidal Mansour, the President of the Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists, also spoke under the tent, insisting that the law came to curb freedom of speech and freedom of press.

Zaki Bin Irshaid, former secretary general of the IAF, a Jordanian Islamist party, said, “The ratification of the Press and Publications law proves that the government wants the press sector to stay small, since they can not be comfortable with anybody out of their control.”

The organisers of the aptly named Freedom Tent vow to go on. Journalist Basel Okour, member of the collective of news websites which organised the tent, stated that the perks that were promised to many journalists will not tempt them to register under the new law, as this draconian law goes against the interest of online journalists, as well as freedom of expression. He added, “Our defence of freedom is a matter of life or death to us.” He also criticized the official press outlets, claiming that they can never belong to real press out of goals, ideas, and ideals.

He also spoke of a series of planned events to happen within the daily protest. This Tuesday will host a panel titled, “The Intractability of Jordanian Politics and Proposed Solutions”, and it will feature ex-MP Toujan Faisal, former minister Bassam Omoush, Political Analyst Labib Qamhawi, and it will be hosted by media figure Dr. Roula Hroub.

For me personally, and many others, going to the Freedom tent was the first time I go down to a protest. News websites played an important role in exposing corruption and covering the causes of many Jordanians, and helped bring a little more justice in the world. I might not agree with many of these websites, and I do agree that some of them might lack a bit of professionalism, but curbing their freedom will silence so many voices that Jordan cannot afford to lose at this crucial stage of its history