On Saturday Jordan’s king approved a draconian cybercrime law that was rammed through parliamentand is significantly worse than its antecedent. The law jeopardizes rights online and offline, including free expression and the right to privacy, and contains vague provisions that could target marginalized groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
The 2023 Cybercrime Law, under articles 13 and 14, punishes the production, distribution, or consumption of “pornographic content,” which is undefined, and content “promoting, instigating, aiding or inciting immorality,” with at least six months’ imprisonment and a fine. These provisions could target digital content around gender and sexuality, as well as individuals who use digital platforms to advocate for the rights of LGBT people.
The law also threatens the right to anonymity under article 12 by appearing to prohibit use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), proxies, and Tor, which many LGBT people use to shield themselves online, effectively forcing individuals to choose between keeping their identity secure and freely expressing their opinions.
A Jordanian LGBT rights activist told me the new law will “destroy all forms of LGBT expression online” and intensify “interference in people’s private lives.”
Jordanian authorities’ use of cybercrime laws to target LGBT people, intimidate activists, and censor content around gender and sexuality is not new. In a 2023 report, Human Rights Watch documented the far-reaching offline consequences of online targeting against LGBT people, including in Jordan, where LGBT people said they felt unable to safely express their sexual orientation or gender identity online, and that LGBT rights activism has subsequently suffered.
A gay man from Jordan whom I interviewed for the report was sentenced to six months in prison in 2021 based on a provision in the 2015 cybercrimes law that criminalized “promoting prostitution online,” after he went to the authorities for protection from online extortion. Another gay activist said Jordan’s intelligence agency summons him for interrogation whenever content around LGBT rights in Jordan is shared on social media.
The new cybercrime law will only exacerbate these abusive practices and expand censorship of free expression. 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.