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)
The Syrian government continued to place severe restrictions on press freedom in 2006. Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, a constellation of repressive laws restricts such rights in practice. First among them is the Emergency Law, in place 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. 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.” 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 new press legislation. However, no such legislation had been introduced by the end of 2006.
Private and political party-affiliated newspapers sometimes publish mild criticism of the government. The internet has also been increasingly used by critical journalists to voice dissent, although the government has aggressively cracked down on internet freedom in recent years. Syria’s first independent media union was created in May 2005 by journalists and human rights activists hoping to liberalize the media. The union, called Hurriyat (Freedom), was still in existence at the end of 2006.
Eight journalists and cyberdissidents were imprisoned in 2006, and dozens of people who had spoken out or were suspected of opposition to the government were detained. On February 7, authorities arrested Adel Mahfouz, who had published an article arguing that violent protests in reaction to cartoons caricaturing the prophet Muhammad could reinforce inaccurate perceptions of Islam as a violent religion. Mahfouz was charged with insulting public religious sentiment and could face up to three years in prison. Freelance journalist Ali ‘Abdallah, who wrote for the Emirati daily Al-Khaleej and Lebanese dailies Al-Nahar and Al-Safir, was sentenced to six months in prison in March for criticizing the country’s weak economy. His son was given the same sentence after contacting the Qatar-based satellite television station Al-Jazeera to report his father’s arrest. In August, security forces arrested Ali Sayed al-Shihabi, a professor of English, for posting articles on left-wing websites. He was still in detention at the end of 2006.
Except for a handful of radio stations that do not broadcast news or report on political issues, radio and television outlets are all state owned. Satellite dishes are common, and the government makes no attempt to interfere with satellite broadcasts. Recently, Syrian television has broached topics formerly considered taboo and conducted interviews with opposition figures. 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, only about 6 percent of the population used the internet in 2006.