Jordan used to be one of the freest countries in the Middle East. That’s changing fast. The government is pushing to expand control over the internet, and it has begun arresting people or making defamatory remarks about the king. It looks like the government of Jordan is expanding its efforts at control in several ways. Tighter censorship over what goes into the country, more monitoring of what is posted online, and prosecuting individual cases for their activities on the internet.

Global Post highlights one recent arrest. Imad Al-Ash, a fifth year computer science student at the University of Jordan, was arrested in February.

The (police) eventually accused Al-Ash of posting critical remarks about the king’s policies on a jihadi website, something Al-Ash steadfastly denies. Defaming or slandering the royals here is a crime, but without a copy of the post in question, it was his word against a single agent…Despite having no hard evidence that Al-Ash had written the post, a military tribunal sentenced the student to two years in prison. He’s now appealing to Jordan’s Supreme Court.

As you look deeper, the case gets even more disturbing. A Jordanian blog, Black Iris, is reporting that the defamation in question actually took place in an MSN chat discussion. Al-Ash’s father says that he was tortured while in police custody.

In addition to the Al-Ash prosecution, the government of Jordan has promulgated a new cyber crime law. Internet cafes must install

“surveillance cameras in order “to prevent access to pornographic and offensive religious content.” All videos taken must then be given to the Ministry of Interior to be processed and examined. Penalties—including heavy fines and jail time—may be imposed on individuals found engaged in questionable activity online.”

Jordan already ranked 140 out of 196 in the Freedom House free press rankings; having the freest press in the Middle East is not that impressive on a global scale. But even that small distinction is rapidly eroding.

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