LGBT Rights Under Siege: How Jordan's New Law Damages Digital Freedom!

The King of Jordan approved a new cybercrime law on August 12th after being passed in the Jordanian Parliament. Critics and human rights activists fear that this new cybercrime law is more draconian than the previous one and that it will jeopardize rights both online and offline and could be used to target marginalized groups, particularly the members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Under Articles 13 and 14 of the Cybercrime Law of 2023, the production, consumption, or distribution of “pornographic content” is prohibited, though what constitutes as such is undefined. It also penalizes distributing, spreading, or producing content “promoting, instigating, aiding or inciting immorality.” The punishment for violating these provisions includes a fine and six months in prison.

Article 12 of the law also reportedly prohibits using virtual private networks (VPN), proxies, and Tor, which many members of the LGBTQIA+ community use to protect their identities online. The 2023 Cybercrime Law, according to Human Rights Watch, forces individuals to choose between freely expressing themselves online and keeping their identities secure.

An LGBTQIA+ rights activist from Jordan told Rasha Younes, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, that the new cybercrime law will “destroy all forms of LGBT expression online” and intensify “interference in people’s private lives.

Human Rights Watch noted that Jordanian authorities have been using cybercrime laws to target LGBTQIA+ individuals online, censor content related to gender and sexuality, and intimidate activists. The international human rights organization reported that LGBTQIA+ people felt unable to express their sexual orientation or gender identity online and that LGBTQIA+ activism significantly suffered because of online targeting against them.

A gay man from Jordan was imprisoned for six months in 2021 for violating the country’s previous 2015 cybercrimes law that criminalized “promoting prostitution online” after he went to the authorities for protection from online extortion. Another LGBTQIA+ rights activist said Jordan’s intelligence agency summons him regularly for interrogation every time content related to LGBTQIA+ rights in Jordan is shared on social media.

Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups wrote an open letter to the King of Jordan on August 2nd, urging the King to repeal the proposed cybercrime law.

The new cybercrime law will only exacerbate these abusive practices and expand censorship of free expression.” Rasha Younes wrote. “Jordanian authorities should safeguard the rights of everyone, including by protecting freedom of expression online and the privacy of digital communications. The first step is to repeal the 2023 Cybercrimes Law.

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