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Press freedom situation continues to be very bad, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - The press freedom situation in Syria continues to be very bad, Reporters Without Borders said on 10 July 2009 as French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner prepared to meet with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on the weekend of 11-12 July in Syria.

Five cyber-dissidents, including Habib Saleh and Firas Saad, are still detained. Several magazines, including "Al-Shababik", "Al-Mal" and "Syria Today", were recently banned. And Palestinian journalist Helmi Musa, who covers Israeli affairs for the newspaper "Al-Safir", was arrested on 5 July in Damascus and was not released until the morning of 10 July after being held in as yet unknown conditions.

"As part of the improvement in relations between France and Syria, we think that it is vital that the French foreign minister stress to Syria the importance of keeping its promises to respect human rights and freedoms, including press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said in the days leading up to the meeting.

Kouchner said on 3 May, World Press Freedom day, that freedom of the press was one of the priorities of France's foreign policy.

Any liberalisation of the media in Syria is blocked by the 2001 press law, which stipulates that only the prime minister can issue permits for journalists to work and which allows for journalists to be arrested on a wide range of charges including "attacking the state's prestige or dignity, national unity and the morale of the armed forces."

Online freedom of expression and information is openly controlled and the authorities have stepped up Internet filtering, making many websites inaccessible, including opposition Arabic-language sites and sites linked to Syria's Kurdish minority.

At the same time, articles 285, 286 and 287 of the Syrian criminal code contribute to the legal and psychological pressure on Internet users, including Habib Saleh, who was given a three-year jail sentence on 15 March for posting articles critical of the government online.

Reporters Without Borders, whose representatives are still unable to get visas to visit Syria, urges France and the European Union to ask Syria to adopt measures to liberalise the media.

Syria was ranked 159th out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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