The Syrian legislature on Tuesday passed a bill that, if signed by President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile], will end the country's 48-year-old state of emergency. Prime Minister Dr. Adel Safar chaired the legislative session, which voted to end the emergency law [SANA report] that has been in place since 1963. The government also abolished the Supreme State Security Court, which was established in 1968 to try political prisoners and had faced criticism [HRW report] from human rights groups. Additionally, the government passed a bill protecting the right to peaceful protests under the Syrian Constitution [text], but also requiring demonstrators to receive government permission before protesting in public. Safar emphasized the need to improve communications between the Syrian government and its citizens, and the country's recent legislative actions may reflect the government's aim to promote democracy and protect citizens' rights. Pro-democracy demonstrators flocked the streets [Reuters report] in the city of Banias following the government's decision to lift of the state of emergency. Thousands of Syrians have held demonstrations across the country calling for political reform, following similar movements across the Arab world.
Last month, al-Assad ordered the formation of a committee [JURIST report] that evaluated possible elimination of the country's 48-year-old state of emergency law. The panel was composed of legal experts and charged with examining potential legislative measures that would simultaneously preserve national security and allow the revocation of the law, which permitted arrest without charge and banned political protests. The announcement may have been an effort to appease demonstrators, whose activity had recently increased, while also conveying that any future reforms would proceed at a gradual pace. In March, al-Assad announced that the government would consider ending the state of emergency [JURIST report]. Also in March, 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.