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Anti-corruption website harassed, closed by authorities as Internet freedom declines; website administrator sues government

(HRinfo/IFEX) - The Administrative Judiciary Court in Damascus has postponed until 5 February 2008 further hearings in the lawsuit filed by the administrator of the Al-Nazaha website ( http://www.alnazaha.org ) against the Syrian minister of communications, Amr Salem.

The administrator of the website filed the lawsuit on 6 November 2007, after Salem ordered the website's closure. Hearings were held on 13 November and 4 and 11 December. In the last hearing, Salem finally revealed that he ordered the website's closure "at the direction of Security Branch No. 225 of the Syrian military intelligence agency," and requested that the military intelligence chief and the defense minister be called to testify.

Salem had insisted all along that the closure order had not originated from his ministry, but had refused to disclose its source until the most recent hearing. His admission is due to the courage and determination of the website administrator, Sulaiman Abdullah, in persisting with this case - the first of its kind in Syria, and the second of its kind in the Arab world, after the case of the director of the Arab Charter in Egypt.

The Al-Nazaha website was subjected to a series of severe incidents of harassment and intimidation before it was finally banned. These incidents included the burning of the website's administrative office; the hacking of its computers; the sudden termination of its server by the company hosting its site domain in November 2006; and threats.

The Al-Nazaha website is known for waging campaigns against corruption in Syria.

Gamal Eid, executive director of HRinfo, said: "Administrators and directors of websites always used to submit to the hostility of the Syrian government, accepting as a fait accompli the government's decision to ban websites. The courage of the director of the Al-Nazaha website may encourage others to confront the government's hostile attitude toward Internet freedom and to expose these violations of free expression."

There has been a sharp decline of civil and political freedoms in Syria, following a short period of improvement when President Bashar Assad assumed office. This decline of freedoms is now most evident with regard to Internet freedom, as thousands of websites have been banned, including political sites, sites dedicated to Kurdish and social issues, and international sites such as "YouTube" and "blogSpot".

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