Amman:  Jordanian journalists are up in arms after the government on August 3 passed a temporary law on cyber crimes seen by many as a way of controlling local news websites.

The government also barred civil servants while at work from accessing around 50 websites, mostly local news, in what it called an effort to improve productivity.

Journalists say the new law allows the authorities to raid and search offices from which websites are published and to access computers without prior approval from public prosecutors.

"The law was written in an elastic way so the government can interpret and implement it the way it wants and according to its interests," Mohammad Hawamdeh, managing editor of Khaberni (Tell me) online news agency, told AFP.

"For example, if I want to publish an article about any social, economic or political issue, under the new law I could be accused of harming Jordan's interests and economy." Like most journalists, Hawamdeh believes the real intention is a local news sites crackdown.

"The fact that the internet ban and the law came out almost at the same time is suspicious. Why did the ban focus mainly on local news sites? It's clear the government is targeting us and wants to shut us up," he said.

The government denies this. "The law was issued to cope with information technology developments as well as related legal issues and cyber crimes. It does not criminalise people for expressing their opinions," Information Minister Ali Ayed told AFP.

He also defended the internet ban for civil servants, saying "work hours should always be used for work." "We respect professional websites. We are not targeting anybody, for example we blocked the Petra news agency's site, even though it's state-run. We did not block sites like Google and Yahoo!"