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Jordan blocks major Web sites

Jordanian authorities move quickly to block web sites that reported on a bank loan scandal known as “Shamayla-Gate.”

Albawaba.com, its sister site menareport.com and elaph.com have been blocked by Jordanian authorities, according to sources in the country. Elaph.com has published a letter on its site linking its blockage to its coverage of a high profile bank scandal, dubbed ‘Shamayla-Gate’, that has rocked the country.

“We were given no prior notice whatsoever [of the blockage],” said one official at Albawaba.com.

Albawaba.com and Menareport.com were the first news outlets to break news of the scandal, which involved the disappearance of a high profile businessmen who had borrowed $100 million from local banks. “We think that this is exactly why we have been blocked, as well as elaph.com. There seems to be some developments in the case, and the authorities want to keep a tight lid,” added the source.

According to the source, Albawaba.com, which is registered in Delaware, contacted the US embassy in Amman, which has promised its full support. It is also known that Elaph, a UK based company, has also contacted its embassy in Jordan, seeking a settlement with the authorities.

According to another source close to the incident, both Albawaba and Elaph have contacted the General Intelligence Department (Mukhabarrat), which has denied to both parties that it has any involvement in the blockage. When asked about Jordan Telecom’s (JTC’s) intentions, the source added that it is not in JTC’s interest to act in such a way, and when it does, it is usually in compliance with instructions from government officials.

In an interview with ITP.net, the director of Albawaba, Hani Jabsheh, stated that his company is still trying to determine whether the issue is a technical one or a political one. “So far, we have still not been given a clear indication of where the problem lies by any of the authorities concerned, and that is why we decided to contact the US Embassy,” he said.

Jabsheh added that the company has also contacted several of its own contacts in both the public and the private sector. However, those efforts have yielded mixed and confusing results at best, he said.

Albawaba was the first news outlet in the region to break the story of what has now been dubbed as “Shamayla-Gate” on February 6, and it carried statements by several government officials addressing the soundness of the Jordanian banking sector and its central bank.

The first local paper to address the issue as a scandal was Al Rai, and that only came almost a week after Feb 6. Since then, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan has pledged transparency and to apply the full extent of the law on all those involved, regardless of their position.

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