UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pilay [official profile] on Saturday urged the Syrian government [press release] to heed to the demands of protesters instead of responding with violence. Pilay warned that continued repression of the Syrian people would only lead to more anger and violence. She advised the Syrian government to look to the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain as examples of the futility of suppressing protests. Pilay called for the Syrian government to guarantee protesters legitimate rights to peaceful expression and to work with the protesters to resolve their issues. Pilay expressed concern over violent repression of protests after the Syrian government announced a set of political and economic reforms stating, "Actions speak much louder than words, to announce a package of long-overdue and very welcome reforms, and then to open fire at protesters in the streets the very next day sends diametrically opposite signals and seriously undermines trust." Also on Saturday, the Syrian government freed 260 political detainees [AFP report] from Saydnaya prison in an overture to the protesters as protests in the country continued with protesters setting fire to a police station and local headquarters of the ruling Baath party. Pilay also stressed the need for an independent investigation into the death of several protesters and called for the immediate release of all detained political prisoners.
Amidst the continuing protests in the country, an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] on Thursday announced that the government was considering lifting [JURIST report] the country's 48-year-old state of emergency law and would work to better protect citizens' human rights. On Tuesday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] also expressed concern [JURIST report] over violence against protesters in Syria. Earlier this month, a military court in Syria 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 news 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].