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Jordan: Big Brother is Watching You!

Jordanian netizens had a rude awakening when news surfaced about the sentencing of Imad Al-Ash to two years in prison – for insulting the Jordanian monarch in an instant message (IM) he had sent to a friend. The computer engineering student was allegedly detained and tortured for five months before the state security court heard his case. Jordanian bloggers have their say here.

Naseem Al Tarawnah says the charge is so “dangerous that it's not even funny.”

He adds:

First, the fact that it’s the 21st century and Jordanians are still being tried for lese majeste – a law so archaic that it begs to reason why any nation would dare continue to use it and still promote itself as progressive – is beyond me. If anything, this is one of those laws that world history has proven to be pretty damn useless and ineffective. It doesn’t stop people from insulting the country’s ruler, in fact it encourages critics to do so (as is the case in Morocco these days), and more over, it solidifies the idea that one lives in an authoritarian state.

Al Tarawnah continues:

Second, the State Security court prosecuting a university student for something he said on a chat room? Not only does this erode the credibility and undermine the perceived legitimacy of this judicial body, but the same court that tries people for treason should not be sentencing citizens for the criticisms insults they inflict.

He further notes:

Third, I’ll just put aside the fact that MSN Messenger is apparently being monitored by the mukhabarat (secret service) aside and thank the good Lord that I’m not a chat kind of person.

Al Tarawnah concludes:

I hope that this post is not taken as a suggestion or even as an act of encouraging Jordanians to, God forbid, insult the King. Heck, I don’t think anyone should be insulting anyone to begin with. But then again, I don’t think anyone should be sentenced to two years in prison by the State Security court for doing so.

Perhaps the most dangerous outcome of this case is that it will likely solidify notions held by certain proponents within the state who have been pushing for placing limits on free speech online.

Readers were quick to comment on the case and its implications.

Farah is angry private IM could be monitored, saying:

This is what bothers me the most. Someone from the government needs to provide an explanation. How dare they? What is this 1984?

tambi adds:

This is outrageous. I think that the officials have to make a statement, clarifying what really happened. Because if what happened is really a sentence based on chat logs! God help us all and god curse the ones responsible for the arrest.

And Reem says such news makes it safer for her to take her thoughts offline. She notes:

News like that makes me feel safer expressing my thoughts among closed groups offline than online. Not because i have revolutionary opposing thoughts, but because i dont know where the boundaries are and what are the laws protecting me. In Jordan it seems that technology is working better for the government to enforce its 18th century laws rather than for the people to move forward.

Meanwhile, Monty is not surprised:

Although I shouldn’t be surprised…whether its your email, your blog, your facebook account, your phone, your tweets, MSN, skype or anything else you do online, I’m pretty sure that its all being stored somewhere and will be referred to the minute some idiot believes you have stepped out of line. For those of us who are active online, that means they can pretty much know everything about you.

Where I am surprised is the fact that they actually have the capabilities and resources to monitor our chats…as it has across the world, the IT revolution started with the security services.

And Thamer is looking for answers on how chats can be monitored:

Regrettably, this is a giant step backwards for the country. Does anyone know if the person in question was in fact being monitored (not sure if technically an MSN chat can be monitored locally) or someone tipped the powers to be that he has insulted the king? I would imagine that if he was chatting on MSN within a chat group and an intelligence officer posing as a civilian or an informant was taking part in the chat they could have been the ones tipping off the authorities. Otherwise, I hope that someone with technical know how can enlighten us more about this!

Other readers who chimed in said that Al-Ash was arrested for posting comments on a Jihadi site, and not for insulting the King of Jordan in an IM.

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