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Adam Rasmi

10 Questions for 7iber.com

NOW talks to Lina Ejeilat, the co-founder of 7iber.com, one of Jordan's newly-blocked websites

Lina Ejeilat.

7iber.com, a popular Amman-based blog launched in 2007, was blocked on Monday by the Jordanian government. The ban is the latest measure in a country that has increasingly cracked down on press freedom and political activists.

 

NOW spoke with Lina Ejeilat, one of the site’s co-founders, about 7iber’s future and the growing climate of censorship in Jordan.

 

NOW: 7iber was blocked yesterday. What happened?

 

Lina Ejeilat: At the beginning of June, the Jordanian government decided to block a total of 292 news websites. 7iber was not initially included on that list, but in a recent online forum, Fayez al-Shawabkeh, the head of Jordan’s Press and Publications Department, was asked why 7iber was not also banned. He said that if 7iber turned out to be a news website, it would be blocked. A second audience member noted that 7iber is actually a blog, and Shawabkeh responded by saying that he was unfamiliar with 7iber and he would investigate the matter. On Monday, we discovered that 7iber had in fact been blocked.

 

NOW: Have you tried to speak to the government about the ban?

 

We actually called Shawabkeh today. We told him we didn’t understand why 7iber was being blocked. His response was that he checked our website, which confirmed to him that we are a news organization ... But 7iber isn’t a news website, it's a blog. Shawabkeh argued that a blog cannot be accessed publicly, that it can only be accessed by friends. So the two of us went back-and-forth as to what the definition of a blog is. He went on to say that blogs, or Twitter and Facebook accounts, are not public, that they can only be accessed by friends ... I think he is really clueless about online media.

 

NOW: How do you plan to fight this decision?

 

Ejeilat: Essentially, we will be working on two fronts. The first is to continue reaching our audience and to continue publishing, and there are different ways to do this. At the same time, we will go out and fight this law. From the very beginning – when the law was first being debated in September 2012 – we were part of different groups who were fighting and lobbying against the ban. We tried, and are trying, to raise awareness about why the law is wrong.

 

NOW: Will you argue that 7iber is not a news website? 

 

Ejeilat: First of all, we would argue that 7iber is not a news website. The government has said they would not block blogs, but it is a very arbitrary decision either way. This is why we oppose the law generally. Also, we certainly don’t think it is okay to block news websites. You can’t give that kind of authority to a government.

 

NOW: What repercussions do you expect?

 

Ejeilat: It’s interesting. A lot of people are saying: “Why don’t you just go and register? Why are you being so stubborn?” I tell them it’s simple. Hypothetically, even if we were okay with this law and wanted to get licensed, we technically can’t. In order to get approval we need to have an editor-in-chief who is a member of the Jordan Press Association, but this organization does not allow membership for online publications.

 

A lot of websites have actually gone ahead and paid journalists who are members of the Jordan Press Association to register with these respective companies. But to get someone who is a member of traditional media and say, “We want you to be editor-in-chief” so we can get licensing is odd. The whole idea of 7iber was to get fresh and young voices, not to bring in an old guard from state-owned media ... Even so, we can’t register anyway, it's technically impossible.


NOW: How does the Jordan Press Association view the law?

 

Ejeilat: The Jordan Press Association is interesting because sometimes it takes a stand against the law, but at the same time, its own laws do not acknowledge certain types of organizations, including online media. The Jordan Press Association promises that it will change its laws, but who knows. In general though, these are all technicalities. This law is a tool to control – to try to control the Internet – which I think is a losing battle.

 

NOW: How does the government justify the ban?

 

Ejeilat: The government says there is a lot of slander in online media. This is true, but there are articles in Jordanian laws that protect individuals against slander, so you can already take them to court. The government also said it needed to know which websites exist so it can direct people in the event of such cases or incidents ... The claim isn’t true. People in the media – we are not against registration – but we should not be required to get a license from the government in order to operate.

 

NOW: Why now? What explains the timing of this ban?


Ejeilat: You need to look at the timing of when the law was actually passed. The government really managed to push it through quickly. The amendments to the Press and Publications Law were the last items approved before parliament closed its session for 2012. There was a clear sense of urgency.

 

I think the timing in many ways reflects what has been happening in Jordan. People have become much more vocal in their criticism of corruption, of government officials, of the royal family, and of people in positions of power. Generally, you feel as if nobody is off-limits anymore. 

 

NOW:  What’s next?

 

Ejeilat: We plan to set up a separate blog. Amman.net, the most important website to have been banned, for instance, is using mirror portals. While the Press and Publications Department blocked a third mirror yesterday, there are still ways to circumvent the ban.

 

We will also republish a lot of our original content. Last night, we posted a comment on Facebook about 7iber being blocked and it was viewed by 20,000 people, so there are ways of reaching our audience anyway.

 

NOW: Can the ban be reversed?

 

Ejeilat: Unless we get an official letter from the ministry saying 7iber is not a news website, no. That’s the only way to reverse the decision.

 

*This interview was condensed, edited, and restructured for greater readability. The title was also amended on July 4.

Lina Ejeilat, the co-founder of 7iber.com, giving a speech. (Facebook photo)

"People have become much more vocal in their criticism of corruption, of government officials, of the royal family, and of people in positions of power."