Syria | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Syria’s civil war has bred an atmosphere of extreme violence, impunity, and intolerance by state and nonstate actors alike. In much of the country, people cannot meaningfully participate in political or civic life. Those that do risk harassment, detention, or death. 

Key Developments: 
  • The ruling Baath Party and allied factions took 200 of the 250 contested seats in parliamentary elections held in government-controlled areas.
  • The government transferred thousands of civilians from besieged areas taken from rebels to other parts of the country.
  • At least 14 journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2016, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
  • Over a million people were thought to be living under siege conditions. 
Executive Summary: 

Syria’s civil war continued unabated in 2016, with the country effectively divided into four main zones, controlled respectively by the repressive government of President Bashar al-Assad; multiple militias comprising opposition forces; the Islamic State (IS) militant group; and Kurdish authorities.  By the end of 2016, the conflict had internally displaced some 6.3 million people and created 4.8 million Syrian refugees. By September 2016, roughly 430,000 people had been killed during the conflict since it started in 2011, according to the independent Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Institutions and rule of law continued to weaken during the year, and corruption was rampant in regime and opposition-held areas.

In April 2016, parliamentary elections took place in government-controlled areas amid an opposition boycott, heavy repression, and open warfare in parts of the country. However, political power remains monopolized by President Assad, his family, and their security and business allies, though foreign actors also express influence.

The regime besieged major opposition-held population centers in a “surrender or starve” strategy by which it limited aid deliveries, and displaced thousands of civilians from captured rebel areas. There were consistent reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees held in government custody. Insurgents also committed serious human rights violations, including detention, torture, and execution of perceived political dissidents and rivals, though conduct varied between different rebel groups. Receding state control in some areas, on the other hand, has allowed for freer expression. The opposition in exile is comprised of delegates from various opposition groups and has been recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people by the Arab League, the United States, and many European countries. However, it does not effectively represent the demands and interests of the population in rebel-held areas.

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