Syria approves law tightening freedom of speech

Bashar Al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. (Photo: Wikimedia)
DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Monday signed into law a bill enshrining a six-month jail sentence for citizens residing in the country who spread disinformation undermining the state’s reputation.اضافة اعلان

Under the previous law, only Syrians residing abroad could be hit with jail sentences, likely in absentia, for spreading fake or exaggerated news deemed damaging to the state.

But under the new legislation approved on Monday, Syrians at home will likewise face prison time.

“Every Syrian who knowingly publishes false or exaggerated news that undermines the prestige ... of the state shall be punished by imprisonment for at least six months,” the presidency said in a statement.

The same sentence was laid out for any Syrian who “publicizes news that could improve the reputation of an enemy state”, the presidency added.

The statement did not specify which countries fall under that label.

The new law also introduced a prison sentence of at least one year for “every Syrian who, in writing or in speech, called for the cession of Syrian territory”, according to the statement.

Syrians have feared prosecution for criticizing the state for decades, even though the constitution did not lay out specific legislation banning such comments.

“People across the country ... lived in fear of being arrested for expressing their opinion, belonging to a dissenting political party, reporting for the media, or defending human rights,” the UN Human Rights Council said this month.

The latest move follows months of growing discontent over a spiraling economic crisis.

Civil war erupted in Syria in 2011 after the violent repression of protests demanding regime change.

Around half a million people have been killed and millions have been displaced in the conflict, which has battered the country’s economy.

The rising cost of living has been further stoked by food and fuel price inflation resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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