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UN rights official concerned for Syria journalists

Director General of the UN Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website], Irina Bokova [official website], expressed concern Thursday over the abuse of journalists in Syria [press release]. She stated: "Torture and detention will never convince the people of Syria that might is right. It is essential for the future of the country and its people that the authorities respect freedom of expression and listen to what their critics have to say." This is the second time that Bokova has condemned Syria for violence against journalists [JURIST report]. On Sunday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] repealed some restrictive media laws [JURIST report] which allowed for the imprisonment of journalists. However, the law still bans any news relates to the armed forces or news that "affects national unity and national security, incites sectarian strife, incites crimes or hatred, or harms state symbols." Additionally, the law extends accountability for media violations to editors, journalists and media spokespersons.

Last month, Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was found badly beaten [AP report], allegedly by pro-Assad forces. As an apparent message to critics of the Syrian president, the cartoonist's hands were specifically targeted during the attack. Also last month, Amnesty International [advocacy website] issued an urgent action [text, PDF] warning that Hanadi Zahlout, a Syrian women's rights activist and freelance journalist, was arrested by the Assad's forces earlier in the month and is at a "serious risk of torture or other ill-treatment."

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