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UN urges Syria to grant freedom of speech to citizens, journalists

The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website] Irina Bokova [official website] condemned Syria [text] for its human rights violations and repression of journalism and free speech. Bokova called for the government to restore citizens' access to cell phones and the Internet and to stop "acts of aggression" against journalists.

Reports coming from Syria are alarming. The rights of citizens must be respected, as must the rights and security of journalists. This includes the right to freedom of expression, the need to access information and the ability to communicate. The decision to shut down internet access and cell phone networks, to block broadcasters and prevent journalists from doing their job is not acceptable.
Syrian communications have been down since early April [AFP report]. Although a new media law has recently been proposed [SANA report] to allow more freedom for journalists, including releasing some imprisoned journalists, rights for journalists in the country are still haphazard. Recently, Dorothy Paravaz, a reporter for Al Jazeera, was detained in Syria and then deported to Iran, where she was held for 19 days [Al Jazeera report].

Yesterday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] condemned reported violence [JURIST report] by Syria against its own people, calling on it to allow UN investigators into the country [press release]. This is not the first time Pillay has called on Syria to end violence. In April, she urged Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Syria has also been reluctant to allow UN relief efforts into the country. Last month, a UN rights official expressed concern [JURIST report] regarding humanitarian aid access to Syrian cities where armed forces have been trying to put down anti-government protests. Repeated entreaties to Syrian authorities for access were unsuccessful. Even a direct phone call from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] regarding the proposed assessment proved unavailing. In April, the UNHRC, in emergency special session, publicly condemned [text, PDF] the violence used by Syrian authorities against peaceful protesters. Additionally, the council immediately called for a full investigation of "all alleged violations of international human rights law" in Syria. Also in April, Assad ended the 48-year-old state of emergency [JURIST report], an event of significant historical note, but protests have continued.

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