A common adage in the region is that the Palestinians have been forgotten, especially in the post-Arab Spring world with Syria up in arms, and Egypt having a new revolution every couple of days. While there are legitimate tragedies happening all over the world, and they all deserve attention, a Palestinian film maker by the name of Dalia Abuzeid has decided to document the trials of a particular group of people that have suffered from decades of marginalization that still goes on today, in a place close to where I call home. In Jordan, there are 24,000 refugees from Gaza that live in a camp that’s just under a kilometer square big, 40 kilometers away from Amman. Refugees from Gaza. Gaza refugees are only given a fraction of the rights other refugees in Jordan enjoy. The restrictions have a debilitating effect on the quality of life in the camp, the unemployment rate in the camp is 43%, and 64% of the camp refugees live on less than $2 a day.
I’ll leave you to watch the introduction to the film project.
The director Dalia says on the page that she intends for the film project to have a direct impact on life in the camp, for the better. If you want to help, I want to direct you to the film project page on zoomal. The project is missing about $4300 dollars for it to be funded, if you can help that would be great. If almost 200 people contribute 20 dollars, they would meet their goal. Wouldn’t you pay that little to remember a great cause and support a great project?
The day the incredibly repressive ban on online news outlets was implemented in Jordan, as I was driving back home, I was listening to a radio interview with the head of the Press and Publications department. A ridiculously asinine comment by him triggered a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I knew starting then that this law is here to stay. In the next couple of weeks I tried to dismiss this feeling as a single instance of pessimism, but an entire month, and two public debates later, I’m sure that this is the first time I have a fairly accurate assessment on the situation of freedoms in Jordan. I’m no longer depressed, I’m angry, and I’m not going to be nice. If you’re looking for the kind of constructive debate, and indecisive pragmatism, you won’t find any here. This is purely a personal rant and should be treated as such.
This law is here to stay, and here’s why. The government is full of asinine and repressive officials. The head of the press and publications law is an example. They view freedom of speech as a personal freedom, something you do within your own personal sphere. They see no place for it in public discourse, and they still believe they can control that. For them, press should only have two point of views, one that carries the official government line, and one that carries the official government view of what opposition should say. Anything that deviates from these two poles is chaos. I have never seen another country that views press and journalists as a utility, comparing them to taxi drivers and doctors. Of course you need a government licence to operate as a journalist, otherwise everybody and their mother in law will start saying what they think about the country.
Then come the people who are responsible for ensuring such an infringement should never occur, our esteemed members of the Parliament. Lets not forget that they passed this law as part of their own personal vendetta against some of these websites, that continually attack them, when they deserve it and when they don’t. And since the parliament is really unpopular for many reasons, people tend to believe anything these websites say. Rather than work on gaining the trust of the people, by doing their jobs as elected officials, they would rather abuse their powers and repress the voices that come out against them. This is the parliament that couldn’t convene for the past two days and many more, because not enough parliamentarians bothered to attend. Counting on them to re-appeal the law is just equally foolish. Lets not forget that our current prime minister was one of the most vocal voices of opposition against this law when he was an MP, but he managed to do a flip worthy of an Olympic gold medal.
Which brings me to the community of people who are standing against this law, including myself. We’re stupid to believe the government when it said it won’t implement this law, or when it said it will implement it in good faith. I warned others but failed to take heed of my own warning when I said we should prepare for this ban. We were also stupid when we believed they wouldn’t censor blogs, but failed to realize that our government doesn’t know what blogs are. When I’m wearing my civil society hat or my Internet freedom activist hat, I tend to be as toothless as a new born. We’re few, and we’re outnumbered and we’re fighting an incredibly unpopular cause. Because other than a few respectable journalistic institutions that took a brave stand against this law, the rest of the ‘respectable’ institutions either capitulated to the government’s will, or are seedy yellow press that will never be popular for their dirty tactics. Let me be clear that my personal opinion on these websites doesn’t mean that they deserve any less freedom than anybody else, but it’s a really difficult cause to sell, because this country at large is incredibly good at justifying repression.
I’m really tired of continuing this charade of pretending that this law is a case of eroding freedoms. Freedom of the internet in Jordan was never a guaranteed thing, and the only reason it took 18 years for the government to finally censor the Internet is purely a byproduct of the fact that the repressive elements in our society and government are lazy, inefficient, and most of the times, stupid. The enemies of the free Internet in Jordan have finally showed their faces, and they are many, and they run this entire establishment. While I still believe in his majesty the King’s commitment towards reforming Jordan into a democracy, I sometimes wonder why these repressive elements continue to be sponsored and entrusted with a task that they are fundamentally against. I’ve honestly reached a point where I’m starting to question whether it’s all worth it to try and be part of this system, my commitment to Jordan isn’t a commitment to it’s sand or it stones, it stems from my believe in the values of our constitution, and if this constitution is reduced to just ink on paper, I am left with no choice but to seek another country that gives a damn about freedoms and democracy.
Oh, and if someone from the Press and Publications department is reading this, this is an example of a website that should be blocked under the law. But it isn’t, because you’re a bunch of inefficient and stupid censors.
Today Jordan’s private TV channel Ro’ya decided to cancel hate cleric Amjad Qourshah’s show that was scheduled this Ramadan, after overwhelming public pressure. People’s objections varied between being against his sectarian calls for violence, referring to Arab Idol fans for celebrating Mohammad Assaf’s victory as heretics, and because of his attacks against pro-regime loyalists, and what they perceive as attacks against the Kingdom’s army and security forces. His recent public outbursts on his Facebook page all contributed to his fall out of popularity in the country, just a year ago he was being touted as a shining beacon of moderate Islam in the country, and his shows on TV and Youtube were very popular, especially among the youth segments.
It didn’t take long for Qourshah to respond, with another classic outburst on his Facebook page. He started off with congratulating the “Zionists” and “Lucifer” for winning this round, conceding that he has lost a large segment of Arab youth to their evil schemes. He then went on on a longer rant, mostly about Arab Idol, claiming that Palestinians have sold 65 years of misery for one night of debauchery in celebrating Mohammad Assaf’s victory. He also said that this is the same kind of brainwashing Christians in Andalusia did, eventually leading to the slaughter of Muslims there like sheep. To further prove his point, he also highlighted the Ottoman annexation Constantinople, as an example of when we “broke the will of the enemy”. He finished his rant saying that God’s victory is coming, and that we have to be prepared when it happens, and the only way to be prepared is to read the Quran and for women to be pious.
I did my best to translate the rant while preserving the right amount of crazy in it. I’m not sure how well Christian Jordanians will take to being described as the enemy. I’m relieved that his TV show got cancelled, but this is a lecturer at Jordan’s biggest university, and he still has a lot of support in Jordan, as of this moment his rant amassed 3000 likes in less than 3 hours. I think we need to apply more public pressure so that a man like this can longer poison the minds of our youth with his hate speech.
A local video production by ShooFeeTV brought out the ire of many parliamentarians in Jordan. The video heavily criticizes the performance of the Parliament in the recent years in a National-Geographic-esque mockumentary. MP Rula Alhroub, a former actress and media personality, heavily criticized the video, and demanded that the Parliament must contact YouTube to remove the video, because allowing such videos would make the parliament lost it’s prestige and lessen it’s social standing.
On the other hand, MP Dr. Mustafa Alhamarneh gave a rare ferocious defense of freedom of speech, saying that creatives have a right to produce content and express themselves freely. He reminded MP Alhroub that her request would be considered media censorship and that we should help and support creative youth rather than oppress and censor them. To my personal surprise, the parliament ended up taking MP Dr. Alhamarneh’s suggestion and decided against asking YouTube to stop broadcasting the video.
Kudos to Dr. Alhamarneh for being a champion of free speech, I feel much better knowing someone like him is under the dome. Here is a link to the video:
Palestinian 65-year-old Maysarah Abuhamdeih has been held in captivity since 28/2/2002 by Israeli occupation forces, among thousands of other illegally detained Palestinians. While I could write articles over articles discussing the finer points of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I chose not to in this post. I want everyone who reads this post to look past the whole complicated geo-religio-political conflict to see this is a pure black and white basic human right’s issue.
Thousands of Palestinians are held captive by Israel, most of them for merely voicing political opinions critical of Israel. Israel claims that they have to arrest these people due to national security interests, the world continues to look the other way. This appears to have become a regional trend, with Syria also detaining hundreds of peaceful citizens, such as Bassel Safadi and Saudi Arabia arresting Jordanian national Khaled Natour. But these countries don’t have the audacity to tout themselves as the Middle East’s only democracy.
It’s not like Israel isn’t benefiting from the Palestinian detainees, there has been reports of them being used by Israeli security forces for practice, and they’re constantly being used by Israel as leverage in negotiations with the PA, including that time they released 198 prisoners as a good will gift to Mahmoud Abbas. We are talking about 198 human beings here, each with their own human pride and dignity being used as pawns to be traded between politicians.
Which brings me to my last point, let’s forget the rest of the 4,772 security prisoners and talk about just one, Maysarah Abuhamdieh. Israel truly believes that this 65-year-old man is a threat to its security because when Israeli courts gave him an initial 25 year sentence, they appealed and pushed for a life sentence. Most recently, he has been diagnosed with cancer, and Israeli prison authorities so far has denied him any treatment. There is no moral ambiguity here. Israel has denied this man and millions of his compatriots their basic human rights in the name of its security, and killed thousands of others, but to deny him treatment and knowingly leave a human being to slowly and painfully die? I am at a loss of words.
The year 2012 was a horrible year for digital rights and free press in Jordan. The passing of the draconian Press and Publications law and extending its jurisdiction to include online news websites gave the government unprecedented powers to control and censor websites it deems unlawful, made it difficult to start a news website, and practically made it impossible for these websites to allow free comments on its websites. So far the law has not been applied yet, which gave us Internet activists in Jordan a glimmer of hope. News that members of the new Parliament gave a memorandum to the government asking for the Press and Publications law to be appealed gave us more hope.
However, my own hopes were dashed when I read the draft of a new Telecommunications law (link content in Arabic). The Press and Publications law was bad, it was the first attempt by our government to systematically censor the Internet, but at least it targeted censoring individual websites. According to the law draft, article 6 (b) gives the government sweeping powers to dictate guidelines that censor entire categories of websites if they wish. This clause alone can cripple free access to Information and Free Speech, both rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
First of all, the article does not fit in this law. The purpose of the Telecommunications law is to regulate telecoms and protect consumer rights, not to dictate and supervise what content they should be allowed to access. Secondly, the fact that “illegal” content exists on the Internet does not justify this article, Jordanian laws already apply in the cyberspace, and this particular issue is handled in the Cyber Crimes law (2010) and the unfortunate Press and Publications law of 1998, and it’s revisions.
That’s not to mention the biggest issue with this article, we simply do not want censorship over the Internet in Jordan. Jordanians made that clear with the 7oryanet campaign in 2012, and the Online Press Freedom Tent, yet the government insists on increasing it’s censorship powers. It infringes on our constitutional right to the free access to Information, and our right to free speech. It infringes also on our right to secret communication by forcing ISPs to monitor our Internet usage to make such censorship feasible.
Speaking of feasibility such censorship is highly impractical, as we have learned from our neighbors in the region, and it’s counter-intuitive. Jordan has benefited greatly from having a free and open Internet for the past 17 years. Jordan’s web industry are some of the more prolific content creators on the Arabic web. And we are just beginning to realize the full power a free Internet has on innovation and the exchange of ideas and opinions. Jordan will no longer be attractive to foreign investors looking to invest in the many digital start-ups in the country.
This article will deal a blow to all of that. Holding ISPs responsible for content, and giving the government unchecked powers to censor the Internet will ultimately lead to over-censorship. Holding ISPs responsible for content they cannot control, and cannot easily censor will cause more overhead on ISPs, which will ultimately raise the price for Internet access, which will make the Internet less affordable. These are costs that Jordanians do not need in this economic slowdown.
I was looking forward to a more progressive Telecommunications law, one that guarantees digital rights, fosters innovation, and promotes accessibility to the Internet. Article 6 (b) alone is regressive on all of those counts. Centralized censorship, and censorship in general, has no place in our laws.
For me it goes without saying that I want the prisoners of conscience released. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and I fully believe in that. However, I would like to also take a moment and address an issue that’s been weighing me down for the past few weeks. Lots of the discourse has been focused on the fact that those prisoners in particular have a just cause, and it’s not right for them to be imprisoned for their particular demands, and that includes many of the articles written today by so called “Freedom activists”.
I’m not debating the justness of their causes, but I will not stand for lines drawn on freedom of expression. I will fight for the freedom of any prisoner of conscience. It worries me that I fear those people whose freedom I fight for. I do not fight oppression for a lesser or different form of oppression, and I want to warn both the government, and the people, and the prisoners of conscience that if they do not support freedom of expression, then they are all transgressors of human rights, and that they shouldn’t count on me being on their side.