Jordan’s Anti-Terrorism Law: A Choice between Security or Speech

April 30, 2014

By Reem AlMasri

*The English text of the law draft was translated from the Arabic by Yazan Al Ashqar and Reem AlMasri. 

You might not need to commit an act that will “involve serious damage to a property or a person”, or pose a “risk to the public safety” or “national security”, or “use firearms or explosives” to be considered a terrorist. All you may need is to express your support to what could be considered a terrorist organization, and, bam, you will find yourself sentenced to hard labor. And, no, this is not North Korea, this is Jordan, which only “escaped the winds” of the Arab Spring because of the democratic transition that the state took upon itself.

On April 21st 2014, the parliament approved the new amendments to the anti-terrorism law. Just today at 2:00 pm the Upper House also approved it. Even though it still has to be approved by the King’s decree, historical patterns and the security mentality in Jordan assure us of the high possibility that the law will pass. Just to be clear, this is not to debate the need for a legal framework under which acts of terrorism should be prosecuted, especially in a country that is striving to prevent any spillover from neighbouring countries. However, in the name of security, the state has been good at stifling freedoms that will also curtail any oppositional voices. In this article we will explain how the Anti-terrorism draft law is following suite.

The new definition of “terrorist acts” in the amended anti-terrorism law subjects a bigger percentage of the Jordanian population to possibility of being prosecuted under it. This is due to the triviality of acts that are listed in the law that constitute an “act of terrorism”, like “any act that intends to cause damage to the environment, or disturbance of public life”. It also expands the scope of spaces through which acts of terrorism can be convicted, one of which, is the digital space.  New amendments clearly list the following as an act of terrorism:

“use of information systems, or the information network, or any other publishing or media tool, or establishment of a website to facilitate the conduct of  terrorist acts or support terrorist groups, or an organization or a charity that performs acts of terrorism or market its ideas or funds it, or conducts any acts that subject jordanians or their property to acts of hostility or reprisals.”

Serious violations of basic freedoms appear with such a definition; it starts with the infringement of the fundamental right of speech across different platforms. A direct affiliation with “terrorist groups” or implication in terrorist acts is no longer the measure for an indictment under this law: a mere attempt to translate support for such groups through expression, signs, and symbols can be enough for prosecution.  It is not only support for a terrorist organization, but support for a charity, or an organization that “markets or funds” what is allegedly defined as a  “terrorist” group. These terms, “terrorist groups”, “market”, and “support”, are not defined and are always subject to different  political interpretations. Would, for example, Jordan’s support for the military coup in Egypt also mean Jordan’s agreement with the Egyptian court decision to consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group? Applying this definition in retrospect, all your Facebook friends who changed their profile pictures into the “yellow four fingers” in solidarity with the violent dispersal of Rabaa sit-in in Egypt may be considered terrorists. This is not an overly stretched example, as so far five Jordanians were convicted for “disrupting friendly relationships with neighbouring countries” for posting Rabaa’s sign on a car, giving out posters of Rabaa’s sign, and finding a message on a mobile that reads “Sisi is more criminal than Bashar”.

The question that poses itself is how? How could this “support” of a terrorist group using information systems be spotted in reality? Would that mean that the state shall employ tools that will allow it to peek into people’s facebook profiles, emails, and communications to map the solidarity or curiosity about a certain group by “liking” a page? Or will it be by mapping users who are retweeting posts by ISIS members?  Under the new definition of a terrorist act, just the simple organization of a protest can be an eligible to define as an “act of terrorism”, as it may “disrupt public life”. Also, in the original Anti-Terrorism law, the General Prosecutor’s suspicion of a terrorist gives him the greenlight to order the monitoring of his/her communication channels and action (article 4). The addition of convicting digital “support” or “marketing” to a terrorist group elicits the prerequisite of monitoring in order to determine these terrorist suspects. This requires a full-fledged surveillance system to apply the “rule of law” which makes everyone a suspect, can list Jordan as an enemy of the internet according to international standards, and conflicts with the constitutional right of Jordanian citizens to the secrecy of their communication.

Another blatant violation of freedom of speech is considering any act that triggers “strife” or “disrupt relationships with a friendly country” an act of terrorism. At times where the lack of a clear definition as to what constitutes “strife” and the politicization of its application, could anyone who writes/speaks their mind for example about Jordan as an “alternative homeland” be considered a terrorist? Also could the publishing of the “inappropriate” video of the brother of the Qatari ruler, be an act of terrorism, given that the publisher was absurdly convicted for disrupting relationships with the Qatari government”?

Let’s move from infringements of basic rights of speech to the disproportion between violation and penalty when it comes to the use of online systems. Not only do the new amendments penalize anyone convicted of “supporting” or “marketing” terrorist groups, but they also add salt to injury by sentencing perpetrators with temporary hard labor in prison. The amendments also consider the disruption of communication channels or computer systems, or the infiltration of networks as a terrorist act penalized by a lifetime sentence with hard labor, without defining the intention of this disruption. Could this also mean that the state’s disruption of communication in certain areas to perform security campaigns be considered an act of terrorism?

These are not the only infringements on citizens rights that the amendments propose as a tradeoff for citizens’ “right for security”. However, here, I wanted to highlight the scope of infringements on freedom of speech that can easily extend to four million Jordanians currently online. One might think that there is an exaggeration in predicting scenarios under which this law can be applied. However, the mentioned cases of speech conviction, and the state’s ability to block 300 websites under the Press and Publication law, and finally the proposal of blocking pornography on Telecommunication draft law, one can clearly see the Jordanian state’s security and custodial mentality in confining online content. In a country that keeps officially expressing its strive to create a fertile hub for internet startups in the region, laws that convict speech and content online will only stifle this dream. Who in their right mind would start a social platform and register it in Jordan, when he/she will be easily associated  with terrorism just by providing the medium?

*Feature image from Shutterstock.

Proposed Amendments Law on Anti Terrorism Law 2006 – Jordan

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