At the workshop the ARIJ team wanted to explore the ways that the Jordanian authorities use a number of laws to control freedom of expression and its effect on journalists. The overhaul of the Press and Publications Law in 2012, and the implementation of Cybercrimes Law (2015) and its 2018 amendments significantly curtail freedom of expression but this is a little known fact amongst the public.
Jordan’s Press and Publication Law was amended in 2012 to grant the Media Commission the authority to block “news websites” without an editor-in-chief who is a member of the Jordan Press Association. Following the amendment, 291 websites were immediately blocked.
There is also the case of gag orders being imposed on individuals but the Jordan Media Commission. In June 2016, university professor Amjad Qourshah was detained in connection with a video published on his Facebook page in 2014, which criticised Jordan’s participation in the US-led coalition’s intervention in Syria.
In August 2016, author Nahed Hattar was detained and charged with insulting religion for publishing a cartoon critical of Islamic State on his Facebook page. Gag orders are increasingly used to restrict the dissemination of information or artistic expression that would be of public interest, and currently undermine freedom of expression standards.
Before the workshop the ARIJ team didn’t have a dataset on the topic but wanted to explore how one could be created. DATA4CHANGE got the team access to the QISTAS database, which is a Jordanian database that provides access to searchable, legislative records as a research tool for jurists, judges, lawyers, students and academics to increase awareness, knowledge, and empowerment of the legislative process and rule of law. It is the only one of its kind in Jordan and it is a privately owned database.
By scraping the database for cases relating to the laws that are frequently used by the government to prosecute journalists and media outlets the team was able to create a brand new dataset. The team only had a few days to do this work and it was labour intensive, as nearly all of the court records are in PDF format. Through analysing the data they could see that with the introduction of the Cybercrimes Law in 2015 the number of cases relating to freedom of expression dramatically increased.
The team wanted to create an interactive product that would allow users to learn more about the laws that restrict press freedom, the consequences for journalists and the broader effects on the news media landscape in Jordan. They also wanted users to be able to compare Jordan to other countries in the world on this topic.
The team created user personas and set SMART goals for the project. The project was aimed at frequent media consumers in Jordan as well as other journalists. Due to the nature of this project it was decided that it should not be published by a Jordanian organisation based inside Jordan as it would likely be blocked.
The final prototype is an interactive website that shows users what laws restrict media freedom in Jordan, the possible punishments, and the actual prosecutions - and compares Jordan with other countries. It contains a quiz and a timeline, and it also allows the user to download the dataset collected.
AFTER THE WORKSHOP
Based on the data insights that the team made at the workshop DATA4CHANGE paired up with UPROAR — a coalition of organisations that are championing digital rights at the UN’s universal periodic review — to draft a number of recommendations that they gave to UN member states who were attending Jordan’s Universal Periodic Review on November 8, 2018.
In 2014, Jordan received a number of recommendations at the UN's Universal Periodic Review that sought to address legislation that restricts freedom of expression both online and offline.
“On the face of it, Jordan seemed to be complying with these requests, but at the DATA4CHANGE workshop the team found data locked within a court records database that told a very different story. Since 2014 the number of cases brought to trial for Press and Publications Law violations has decreased, but in reality, those cases, and many others, have instead been prosecuted under the Cybercrimes Law, which was introduced in 2015,” said Dr Bronwen Robertson, Co-Founder of DATA4CHANGE.
At its UPR session in November 2018, Jordan received 16 recommendations that tackle freedom of expression issues, including some really strongly worded recommendations that demand that Jordan revise and repeal the restrictive provisions in the Press and Publication Law and the Cybercrimes Law. It will be interesting to see how Jordan responds to these.
DATA4CHANGE is actively seeking funding to develop the prototype that was built at the workshop.