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In Jordan, proposed amendments to censor Internet

31 Aug

New York, August 31, 2012–Proposed legislation in Jordan would impose significant new restrictions on online news content and reader comments while giving authorities new powers to block domestic and international websites. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the lower house of parliament to reject the bill when it takes up debate on Sunday.

“If passed, these amendments would represent a huge step backward in Jordan’s press freedom record,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Jordan would be joining a list of authoritarian countries that use Internet censorship as a form of media repression.”

The measure would apply the restrictions in Jordan’s existing Press and Publications Law to online media. Those include prohibitions on insulting the royal family, publishing anything counter to “national obligation” and “Arab-Islamic values,” inciting sectarian strife or stirring discord or violence, and slandering any public officials or foreign heads of states.

The proposal, which comes as an amendment to the 1998 Press and Publications Law, would require every online media outlet to register with the government and obtain an official license, similar to print publications, according to news reports. The legislation would also grant the government the right to block any website in violation of the law, including non-Jordanian websites, without a court order, the reports said.

Under the proposed amendments, electronic media owners and their employees would be responsible for ensuring that all comments published by their readers do not violate any laws, according to news reports. They would further be required to maintain a record of all comments posted on their site for at least six months, the reports said. The amendments also prohibit the posting of any comments not related to the published article.

If a website is found in violation of posting a comment not in accordance with the proposed regulations, it could face fines of up to 10,000 Jordanian dinars (US$14,000), news reports said.

The Jordanian government approved a draft of the bill on August 22, according to news reports. If the lower house passes the legislation, it will go to the upper house for review.

Journalists and media activists protested in front of parliament against the proposed amendments on Wednesday, news reports said. On the same day, the reports said, at least 500 websites featured a black home page with the following message: “You may be denied access to the content of this website under amendments to the Press and Publications Law as a result of government control over the Internet.”

Many analysts say that Jordan has maintained free and open access to the Internet, a policy that stands in contrast to other countries in the region.

  • For more data and analysis on Jordan, visit CPJ’s Jordan page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: As Wang is freed, Chinese journalist Shi Tao still held

31 Aug

A protester holds a poster depicting jailed journalist Shi Tao. (AP/Miguel Villagran)

Chinese dissident Wang Xiaoning was released today after serving a 10-year prison term on charges of “incitement to subvert state power,” a case built in good part on client information supplied by Yahoo. Wang had used his Yahoo email account and the discussion forum Yahoo Groups to spread ideas the government deemed dangerous. His case closely parallels that of journalist Shi Tao, another Yahoo user who fell afoul of the Chinese government. In 2005, Shi was convicted of “illegally leaking state secrets abroad” and given a 10-year sentence. Yahoo had helped authorities identify Shi through his account information.

Shi, an editor for the newspaper Dangdai Shang Bao in Hunan province, had used his Yahoo account to send notes about the local propaganda department’s instructions on how to cover the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The notes were sent to the editor of a U.S.-based news website. The propaganda department’s predictably restrictive directive was declared a state secret only after that fact. But Shi had been on the government’s surveillance radar for a while. He had written essays calling for political reform, which were posted on overseas news websites that were banned in China. (Click here for an example of his essays translated in English, and here to see a transcript of the email containing the content of the government propaganda directive.)

Just as Wang served out his full sentence, it seems likely Shi may spend his entire term in jail, despite legal appeals by his family. In February 2005, authorities in Shanghai suspended the law license of Guo Guoting, a defense attorney who represented Shi journalists Zhang Lin and Huang Jinqiu.

In 2005, CPJ honored Shi with an International Press Freedom Award.

One positive result has come from Shi’s ordeal. After Yahoo came under heavy international criticism for handing over client information to Chinese authorities, the Internet and telecommunications industries began to address their legal and ethical responsibilities in such cases. In 2008, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google helped launch the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a group of industry leaders, academics, and defenders of human rights and press freedom that seeks to protect privacy and freedom of expression worldwide. GNI has made progress in ensuring that the companies that increasingly make up the backbone of news distribution protect their clients’ rights to free expression and privacy.

China continues to jail journalists. Although cases like that of Shi, a critical mainstream journalist, have not been common in recent years, ethnic minority journalists have become a particularly vulnerable group. Of the 27 journalists jailed in China when CPJ conducted its most recent worldwide census, in December 2011, more than half were ethnic Uighur or Tibetan journalists.

Most of them worked online.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

CPJ Impact

31 Aug

After outcry, Brazil supports UN plan for safety

After an uproar from CPJ and local Brazilian press freedom groups and journalists, the Brazilian government has thrown its weight behind a U.N. plan to improve journalist security.

Brazil had initially opposed the plan, called the U.N. Draft Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, but then reversed its course and called in Brazilian group Associacao Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (ABRAJI) for a consultation this month.

CPJ documented Brazil’s failure to support the U.N. plan and wrote a letter to President Dilma Vana Rousseff, asking that Brazil assert its global leadership to ensure that the fundamental right of freedom of expression is afforded to all.

Ethiopian editor freed after global calls for his release

Under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia has been one of Africa’s most repressive countries for journalists. CPJ has campaigned extensively on behalf of the Ethiopian press, calling on authorities to halt their practice of prosecuting journalists for expressing dissent. After the prime minister’s death this month, the government decided to drop charges against Temesghen Desalegn, editor of the leading independent weekly Feteh, who was accused of defamation.

CPJ had called on the government repeatedly to drop the charges against Temesghen as well as Mastewal Publishing and Advertising PLC, the company that publishes Feteh. CPJ will continue to call on authorities to release the eight journalists who still languish in Ethiopian prisons.

CPJ’s coverage of the government’s efforts to suppress reports of Meles’ declining health received record traffic on the website, including a total of almost 500 comments.

In Colombia, Supreme Court drops defamation suit against journalist

Colombia’s record of press freedom has markedly improved in the past few years, so it came as a surprise to local journalists when, in an unprecedented move, the Colombian Supreme Court filed a criminal defamation complaint against a prominent columnist this month. But after an outcry from CPJ and other local press freedom groups, the Supreme Court reversed its course and dropped the charges.

The entire criminal chamber of the court filed a complaint against Cecilia Orozco Tascón, a columnist for the daily El Espectador, in connection with her column criticizing the court’s recent actions.

In May, CPJ launched the campaign “Critics are not Criminals” to help fight the criminalization of speech in the Americas.

Keeping journalists safe at U.S. political conventions

CPJ’s Journalist Security blog, curated by Frank Smyth, the organization’s senior adviser for journalist security, has published articles on journalist safety by a range of experts including Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.

In advance of the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, Osterreicher wrote two articles, published on the Journalist Security blog, that provided an overview of freedom of expression laws as well as tips for journalists who were either detained or arrested at the events. CPJ’s Americas Research Associate Sara Rafsky also provided a list of resources for journalists to consult before heading to the conventions.

CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide serves as a year-round guide for local and international journalists who are attacked, threatened, harassed, or killed in astonishing numbers around the world.

CPJ remembers board member Burl Osborne

CPJ mourns the death this month of Burl Osborne, who has served on CPJ’s board since 1997.

Osborne chaired CPJ’s investment committee and was part of a 2008 CPJ delegation that met Mexico President Felipe Calderón and urged him to pledge to address anti-press violence in the country. In June of this year, Mexico passed milestone legislation federalizing anti-press crimes.

“Burl Osborne has been a stalwart supporter of CPJ since he joined the board 15 years ago,” said CPJ Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe. “His incisive analysis, sharp wit, and generous spirit were a rare and treasured combination. We will miss him a great deal.”

Osborne had served as an editor and publisher of the Dallas Morning News and formerly worked as chairman of The Associated Press. The longtime journalist had also served as director of Gatehouse Media, director of the Newspaper Association of America, and the chairman of the Belo Foundation.

Upcoming Events

Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior Americas program coordinator, will be participating in a panel discussion after the screening of the film Reportero at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York on September 15. He will be joined by the filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz. 

CPJ is launching special reports on Argentina, Vietnam, and Turkey this fall.

CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards, an annual recognition of courageous journalism, is scheduled for Tuesday, November 20, 2012, in New York City. For tickets, please call CPJ’s Development Office: (212) 465-1004 x113. 

Blog highlights

In Meles’ death, as in life, penchant for secrecy, control

As it backs Assange, Ecuador stifles expression at home

Criminalization of free speech a serious setback for Russia

Yamamoto’s death reflects Japan’s media reach, duty

Weak cyber protections lead to personal, institutional risk

India’s clumsy Internet crackdown

The long shadow of Spanish politics over public media

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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