An adviser for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] on Thursday announced that the government would consider lifting the country's 48-year-old state of emergency law and would work to better protect citizens' human rights. Presidential spokesperson Buthaina Shaaban said that the government might repeal the emergency law [AFP report], which bans political protests, in addition to making other reforms such as releasing political prisoners, allowing the formation of political parties and raising the salaries of government employees. The announcement may be an effort to stop ongoing protests, which have escalated since last week. In the southern city of Daraa, as many as 36 protesters have allegedly been killed by police [HRW news report] since March 18. Other protesters were arrested, though the government announced that all the protesters have since been released from prison [RTE report]. The government has been promising reforms since January, when al-Assad announced in an interview that he would push for political reforms including municipal elections and a new media law [WP interview]. Another protest was planned in Damascus [LAT report] on Friday, despite the government's promised reforms.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Tuesday expressed concern [JURIST report] over violence against protesters in Syria. A military court in Syria last week sentenced a human rights activist [JURIST report] accused of harming the country's relations with Iran to 18 months in prison. Ali Abdullah's sentence was based on allegations that he made critical comments against Iran [AP report], thereby harming Syria's relations with a foreign country. Last month, Syria appeared to be lifting the four-year-old ban [JURIST report] on social media sites Facebook [website; JURIST news archive] and YouTube [website; JURIST news archive] as a concession to avoid popular upheaval [DP report]. The Syrian protests may have been inspired by the recent unrest in Egypt, where nearly 400 people were killed and 5,500 were wounded during the three weeks of protests that led to the February resignation [JURIST report] of former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile].