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The latest from Freedom House:

At least twenty people were killed and more than 100 injured on July 15, as hundreds of thousands of Syrians demonstrated across the country against President Bashar al-Assad and the imprisonment of Syrians. Citizens attempted to block security forces from entering the area and damaging buildings. Forces fired live ammunition and teargas at protesters in the capital of Damascus and various suburbs. Activists organized the countrywide demonstrations via Facebook—these have been the largest demonstrations held to date.

Five activists plead not guilty in an Abu Dhabi trial after criticizing the United Arab Emirates’ government leadership. The five activists: Ahmed Mansour, Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salem Dalk, Hassan Ali al-Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq signed an online petition calling on United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa to introduce “direct elections” and give parliament legislative powers, in an effort to promote political and economic reform.

Egyptian military leaders announced July 21 that the Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces wouldprohibit international groups from monitoring the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary elections,a decision nominally intended to prevent international involvement from “interfering with Egypt’s sovereignty.” Only Egyptian nationals would be permitted to act as election observers. The announcement coincided with promulgation of a new electoral law, which formalized selection procedures for the People’s Assembly, the lower house of parliament. The SCAF’s stance on international observers troubles many in the Egyptian NGO community, who worry that the lack of independent monitors will permit authorities to disguise serious electoral flaws.

According to Amnesty International, a leaked version of a new draft anti-terrorism law in Saudi Arabia would give wide-ranging powers to the Minister of the Interior, allowing him to subvert due process in the name of national security without judicial oversight, further endangering freedom of expression and association in that country. Under the draft Penal Law for Terrorism Crimes and Financing of Terrorism, criminal actions that can be labeled terrorist acts are defined in overly broad terms that could potentially be used to deter peaceful protest as well as restrict dissenting opinions and target political opposition. The legislation is currently has been reviewed by a government security committee and it is unknown if and when it might pass.

Dima Bondarenko, a Belarusian political prisoner, will be forced by prison authorities in Belarus to undergo spinal surgery without sufficient recovery time before being returned to prison according to human rights groups. Bondarenko has reportedly been subjected to inhumane conditions in prison that have led to multiple health problems including stomach ulcers and spinal disease. According to his wife, Bondarenko was not given an option with regards to having the surgery and will be sent back to his cell after only two weeks, despite a need for months of rehabilitation. Bonadarenko is in extreme pain and his right leg partially paralyzed. Surgery could permanently cripple him if prison authorities send him back before he has had time to fully recover.

Despite opposition from the majority of African and Islamic countries, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has granted consultative status to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) after a 29 to 14 vote.

Freedom House condemns the violence and arrests on June 29 of more than 150 demonstrators, including 10 journalists, at the “Rallies by Social Networks” protests in Belarus and calls on Belarusian authorities to release all demonstrators immediately.