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The Syrian Regime’s Law No. 19 of 2024 on Establishing a Media Ministry Blatantly Violates Freedom of Media, Opinion, and Expression

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The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today, June 13, 2024, released a report entitled, ‘The Syrian Regime’s Law No. 19 of 2024 on Establishing a Media Ministry Blatantly Violates Freedom of Media, Opinion, and Expression’, in which the group stressed that Law No. 19 of 2024 is simply an instrument to consolidate the regime’s control over the work of journalists and media content, impose further censorship against private press and publications entering the country, and placing more restrictions on TV production.

The 11-page report notes that Syria is notoriously one of the lowest-ranking countries globally in terms of freedom of press and media work. The Syrian regime bears full responsibility for the abysmal state to which the country’s media have sunk. In this, the regime has further compounded its suppression of journalists and media workers following the start of the popular uprising for democracy in Syria in 2011. Hundreds of journalists and media workers have been killed, arbitrarily arrested, and forcibly disappeared since then, while all regional and international media outlets operating in Syria at the time were banned and expelled, except for those that unquestioningly endorsed the regime’s narrative.

As the report further reveals, the Syrian regime has maintained its absolute hegemony over every area of legislative power in Syria, effectively using this limitless power to legalize and rationalize a wide range of violations through promulgating quasi-legal laws. In this, the Syrian regime allowed the executive branch/security apparatus to exert full control over the People’s Assembly of Syria, and the laws passed by it, regardless of the fact that these may violate international human rights law and the interests of the Syrian people.

Law No. 19 of 2024 is the latest in a series of laws that enable the regime to consolidate control over the various aspects and sectors of media, increasing censorship, silencing dissenting views, and further tightening the security apparatus’s already stifling grip on the media through the power of the law in a blatant violation of international human rights law. Other such laws include the Law on Media, which was adopted through Legislative Decree No. 108 of 2011, and then Legislative Decree No. 107 of 2012 on the Implementation of the Articles of the Law on Online Communication and Combating Cybercrime. There were also Legislative Decree No. 23 of 2016, which was an amendment to the Law on Media, and Law No. 20 of 2022, which can be described as an overhaul of the existing criminal articles on cybercrime. The Syrian regime has used those laws primarily as instruments to criminalize and persecute a wide range of civilians, including even pro-regime figures, for practicing the most basic forms of expression of opinion or voicing criticism against the authority, especially in light of the rising levels of popular resentment in regime-controlled areas amid steadily deteriorating economic and living conditions for civilians.

The report stresses that the text of Law No. 19 of 2024 clearly contradicts both international and domestic laws, as well as the Constitution of 2012. Moreover, Law 19/2024 perpetuates the regime’s policy of restricting freedom of opinion and expression, and consolidating control over media outlets, in a broader attempt to monopolize and restrict information, and spread misinformation in service of its interests, no matter how much this goes against the interests of the state and the Syrian people.

The report calls on the UN and the international community to apply as much pressure as possible on the regime to repeal all legislation that violates international law and is used to restrict and criminalize freedom of opinion and expression. Moreover, the report calls for exerting serious and effective efforts to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers in Syria and end impunity for violations against them, as stated in Security Council resolution 2222 (2015), Human Rights Council resolution 33/2, adopted on September 29, 2016, and the UN General Assembly resolution 162/70, adopted on December 17, 2015, as well as in the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity adopted in 2019.

The report also calls on the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI) to document the extent to which the laws promulgated by the Syrian regime violate international human rights law, and to condemn all arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance practices carried out on the grounds of said laws.

In conclusion, the report calls on the Syrian regime to repeal all legal articles that can be used as grounds to detain journalist sand media work over practicing their profession from the existing legal system in Syria, in addition to making other recommendations.

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