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Syria president issues new law on media

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] issued a legislative decree on Sunday repealing earlier more restrictive laws on media. Legislative Decree No. 108 for 2011 [Syria Online backgrounder] lifts oppressive legislation which allowed for imprisoning journalists [DP-News report] for "attacking the prestige and dignity of the state, national unity and the morale of the army." Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud indicated the law will "cancel penalties against journalists and ... [facilitate] their access to information." The law also calls for the establishment of a "National Council of Information" linked to the cabinet which will regulate the information sector under the new media law. The law, however, bans publications on a swath of topics [CNN report] including content that "affects national unity and national security, incites sectarian strife, incites crimes or hatred, or harms state symbols" as well as news related to the armed forces. Journalists may still be fined up to $21,000 for defamation, and the law would extend accountability for violations to editors, journalists and even media spokespersons. Opposition activists have also dismissed the once highly-sought reforms as "too little too late" in the face of continuing accounts of regime brutality and protester fatalities.

In June, the director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website] Irina Bokova [official website] condemned Syria [JURIST report] 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. Last week, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] adopted a resolution [draft text, PDF] ordering an investigation into crimes against humanity in Syria and urging the Syrian government once again to halt its violent crackdown against peaceful protesters. The UNHRC convened a special session to discuss the possibility of an investigation after a Fact-finding Mission in Syria published a 22-page report concluding that Syrian government forces cracking down on the opposition may be committing crimes against humanity [JURIST report].

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