International rights groups and media freedom defenders expressed concern on Wednesday about a recent Jordanian government decision to block unlicensed local news websites saying it was a censorship attempt.
"We are on an urgent press freedom mission with my colleagues," Anthony Mills, deputy director of the International Press Institute, told a joint news conference in Amman with members of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Reporters Without Borders and others.
Mills said a government decision on June 3 to block 290 of around 400 local news websites "for failing to obtain necessary licensing," under a controversial law approved last year, violates "numerous international agreements on freedom of expression to which Jordan is a party."
"It also appears as an effort to censor, that is the way it appears," he said.
"The concern about this development has not been just local or even regional, it has been International. This development appears to contradict efforts by Jordan to promote reform on the path to healthy democracy."
Jordan's Press and Publication Department (PPD) has insisted "the decision does not seek to restrict freedoms," and that "the objective is to organise the work of these websites."
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But journalists say the government is attempting through the licensing process to "organise," or control who can publish news.
"We are extremely concerned by the recent blockage of news websites here in Jordan," said Adam Coogle, HRW researcher for the Middle East and North Africa.
"The new law is vague and it does not define clearly who is subject to it. Blocking news websites restricts freedom of the press in Jordan and violates Jordan's human rights obligations... under the international agreements and under its own constitution."
Last year, amendments to the press and publications law authorised the government to regulate "electronic publications," requiring them to register with the PPD and obtain a license.
They also stipulate that website chief editors must be members of the Jordan Press Association, giving the government the right to censor content and hold journalists liable for posted comments.
HRW has joined calls by journalists, activists and even opposition Islamists to scrap the legislation, which the rights group has said allows the government "to encroach on online media freedom."