Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] on Thursday ordered the formation of a committee that will evaluate possible elimination of the country's 48-year-old state of emergency law. The panel will be composed of legal experts and charged with examining potential legislative measures [AP report] that would simultaneously preserve national security and allow the revocation of the emergency law, which permits arrest without charge and bans political protests. The announcement may be an effort to appease demonstrators, whose activity has increased in recent weeks, while also conveying that any forthcoming reforms will proceed at a gradual pace. The committee is expected to complete its report by April 25.
Al-Assad announced last week that the government would consider ending the state of emergency [JURIST report]. Also last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged the Syrian government [JURIST report] to ensure protesters' rights to peaceful expression and to work toward addressing their concerns instead of responding with violence. As demonstrations continued throughout the country last week, the government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] in an overture to the protesters. 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 three weeks of protests that led to the February resignation [JURIST report] of former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile].