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Freedom House condemns latest attacks on protesters, shutdown of Internet

(Freedom House /IFEX) - Washington - June 3, 2011 - Freedom House condemns the ever-deepening cycle of repression directed by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters throughout the country. Today, security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Hama, killing at least 40, according to Syrian human rights observers. Attacks on protesters were also reported in the southern town of Jassim and the northeastern city of Deir al-Zour, as well as other locations. The demonstrations on "Children's Friday," which appeared to be the largest of the 10-week uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, were mainly provoked by the circulation of graphic videos documenting the murder and mutilation of a 13-year-old boy, Hamza al-Khatib, by Syrian security forces.

"The Assad regime's recent offer of amnesty for political detainees and calls for national dialogue are insufficient to address the political crisis and deteriorating human rights situation in the country," said Charles Dunne, Freedom House senior program manager for the Middle East and North Africa. "There should be no more illusions about whether the regime can lead the way to reform."

Over 1,100 people have been killed and more than 10,000 jailed by the Syrian regime since large-scale protests began in March, according to human rights activists. In a bid to limit Syrians' access to information and keep the outside world from learning the full truth about the government's campaign of violence, Syrian authorities shut down internet access and cell phone networks early this morning, with the exception of certain government services. Freedom House notes that this same strategy was employed by the Egyptian and Libyan governments in the past, ultimately to little effect. We call upon the Syrian government to restore full and immediate internet access and cell phone connectivity throughout Syria.

Freedom House also applauds the June 2 final declaration of the Syria Conference for Change, which brought together approximately 300 Syrian opposition figures in the Turkish city of Antalya. The declaration demanded the immediate resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and outlined a road map for a transition to democracy to be fulfilled within one year of Assad's resignation - including the formation of a transitional council to oversee the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of "free and transparent parliamentary and presidential elections." Freedom House, which called for the resignation of President Assad on April 8, endorses the Syrian opposition's demand for the president to step down and for a process leading to the establishment of a genuine democracy to begin. We call upon the US government to do the same.

Syria is ranked Not Free in "Freedom in the World 2011", Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in "Freedom of the Press 2010".

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