Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Syria's regime continued to severely restrict press freedom in 2005. Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, a constellation of repressive laws together restrict Syrians' rights to freedom of expression and of information. First among them is the Emergency Law, in place without interruption since December 1962, which broadly mandates the censorship of letters, publications, broadcasts, and other forms of communication. The 2001 Press Law sets out sweeping controls over newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals, as well as virtually anything else printed in Syria. Provisions apply to any writer or anyone with the means to print a document. The decree forbids writing on a wide variety of topics, including reports that touch on what authorities consider to be "national security" or "national unity." Neither term is defined. The publication of "falsehoods" and fabricated reports can be punished by up to three years in prison and fines of between $10,000 and $20,000. Articles 286 and 287 of the penal code criminalize spreading news abroad. Decree No. 6 of 1965 criminalizes "publishing news aimed at shaking the people's confidence in the revolution." Other laws criminalize "opposition to the revolution, its goals, or socialism." At the June 2005 conference of the ruling Baath Party, the Ministry of Information announced that it would issue a new press law. It had not been introduced by the end of the year.
Private and party newspapers sometimes publish mild criticism of the government. Syria's first independent media union was created in May by journalists and human rights activists hoping to liberalize the media. The union, called Hurriyat (Freedom), has been working to get recognition from the state. That same month, authorities confiscated thousands of copies of the business magazine Al-Mal for publishing an interview with a prominent Syrian businessman who criticized the government's economic policies. In June, the Ministry of Information canceled the license of Al-Mubki, a satirical newspaper that criticized the government.
Dozens of people who had spoken out against or were suspected of opposition to the government were detained throughout the course of the year. In March, the Ministry of Information revoked Al-Hurrah correspondent Ammar Mussareh's accreditation because of his coverage of a March 10 protest in Damascus. In the same month, security forces threatened Assif Ibrahim, a journalist for the mouthpiece of the Baath Party, because of an article he had written alleging corruption in a Damascus building project. In May, military intelligence officers arrested civil society activist Habib Saleh-who had been released from prison in September 2004 after serving a three-year sentence for participating in civil society forums in the spring of 2001-for detailing his prison experiences in open letters and articles published online and for the Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar. In June, the Arabic Network for Human Rights in Syria reported the disappearance of journalist Anwar Saat Asfari. No further information about his whereabouts was available by the end of the year.
Except for a handful of radio stations that do not broadcast news and do not report on political issues, radio and television outlets are all state owned. Satellite dishes are common, and the government made no attempt to interfere with satellite broadcasts. The government censors the internet and monitors its use, but Syrians employ a range of technical tricks to circumvent censorship, and a handful of blocked domestic Syrian websites and e-mail lists openly criticize the government. However, persistent financial constraints mean that less than 5 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2005.