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Anhang zur PRESSEMITTEILUNGBerlin, 16.11.1998


Press freedom in Syria

There are no privately owned newspapers or broadcasters in Syria. The press, like the printing works, are owned by the state or the Baath party, and are directly controlled by the ministries of information and national guidance, which strictly monitor all news. Foreign newspapers, particularly those published in Arabic, are subject to very strict censorship and are banned if they publish stories questioning the role of the president, the government or its foreign policy. Radio and television programmes, which are also controlled by the government and the Baath party, are mediocre and monotonous. Foreign news, especially anything to do with problems in the region, takes up a lot of space, whereas national news is tightly controlled. Satellite aerials were theoretically banned at the end of 1994 but have proved impossible to eradicate, such is the population's passion for programmes from abroad.

As far as Reporters Sans Frontières is aware, ten journalists are currently imprisoned in Syria. But as the situation is particularly impenetrable, we cannot be sure that others are not being held without our knowledge. For example, it was only in July 1998, when they were moved from one jail to another, that the detention of three journalists accused of belonging to the Communist Action Party and publishing reports in underground newspapers came to light. They are Marwan Mohammed, jailed since 1987, Qaiss Darwish, arrested in 1984, and Nou'man Abdou, held since 1992. The seven others are Nizar Nayyouf (sentenced to ten years' hard labour in 1992), Faraj Birqdar (arrested in 1987, sentenced in 1993 to 15 years), Salama George Kila (sentenced to eight years in 1993), Anwar Bader (held since 1986, sentenced to 12 years), Ismail Al-Hadije (arrested in 1982, sentenced to 15 years in 1994), Samir Al-Hassan (jailed in 1986, sentenced to 15 years in 1994), and Faysal Allush (held since 1985, sentenced to 15 years in 1993).

The trials of all ten journalists, who were given sentences of between eight and 15 years, often with hard labour, took place before the supreme state security court, which was set up under the emergency law of 1968. The court works in such a way as to ignore the principles governing fair trials laid down by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Syria has signed. It is neither independent nor impartial, the press and public are excluded from hearings, and defendants are even denied the assistance of a lawyer. Confessions are obtained under torture and there is no appeals procedure.

Prison conditions are particularly inhuman. Torture and ill-treatment, the untreated after-effects of torture, lack of hygiene and inadequate food are the cause of many illnesses and deaths. The case of Nizar Nayyouf, who is being denied treatment for a malignant disease and is paralysed as a result of torture, highlights the extreme harshness of Syrian prisons.

November 1998

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