Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

The Worst of the Worst 2012 - Syria

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 4 July 2012
Cite as Freedom House, The Worst of the Worst 2012 - Syria, 4 July 2012, available at: [accessed 17 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 22,500,000
Capital: Damascus

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7 ↓
Status: Not Free

Ratings Change: Syria's civil liberties rating declined from 6 to 7 due to increased government efforts to divide the country along sectarian lines, the complete deterioration of the rule of law, and increased restrictions on freedom of movement.

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2002200320042005200620072008200920102011

2011 Key Developments: Responding to persistent popular protests that began in March, the government used the military and other security forces to pursue a violent campaign of repression in 2011, periodically besieging towns and killing several thousand people by year's end. The regime offered some nominal reforms, such as the repeal of the emergency law, but they had little practical effect as authorities continued to attack, detain, and abuse tens of thousands of Syrians, including journalists, political activists, and members of certain ethnic and religious groups.

Political Rights: Syria is not an electoral democracy. The president is nominated by the ruling Baath Party and approved by popular referendum for seven-year terms. In practice, these referendums are orchestrated by the regime, as are elections for the 250-seat, unicameral People's Council, whose members serve four-year terms and hold little independent legislative power. Almost all power rests in the executive branch. The only legal political parties are the Baath Party and its several small coalition partners in the ruling National Progressive Front. The government promised in 2011 to initiate a process of constitutional reform with the aim of easing the Baath Party's political dominance, but constitutional changes made toward year's end took a vague approach to political parties and aimed instead at reinforcing President Bashar al-Assad's own power.

Civil Liberties: Freedom of expression is heavily restricted. It is illegal to publish material that harms national unity, tarnishes the image of the state, or threatens the "goals of the revolution." Many journalists, writers, and intellectuals have been arrested under these laws. Most broadcast media are state owned, and private print outlets are required to submit all material to government censors. However, satellite dishes are common, giving most Syrians access to foreign broadcasts. More than a dozen privately owned newspapers and magazines have sprouted up in recent years, but amid the 2011 turmoil even the most established of them dealt only obliquely with domestic political issues. Journalists frequently went missing or were jailed during 2011. Foreign journalists also faced detention and travel restrictions. Syrians access the internet only through state- run servers, which block more than 200 sites associated with the opposition, Kurdish politics, Islamic organizations, human rights, and certain foreign news services. Social-networking and video-sharing websites are also blocked. Although the constitution requires that the president be a Muslim, there is no state religion in Syria, and freedom of worship is generally respected. However, the government tightly monitors mosques and controls the appointment of Muslim religious leaders. Mosques frequently became sites of violence in 2011, as government forces attempted to prevent gatherings of worshipers from turning into protests. Academic freedom is heavily restricted. University professors have been dismissed or imprisoned for expressing dissent, and some were killed during the 2011 uprising. Public demonstrations are illegal without official permission, which is typically granted only to progovernment groups. All nongovernmental organizations must register with the government, which generally denies registration to reformist or human rights groups. Leaders of unlicensed human rights groups have frequently been jailed for publicizing state abuses. Women hold only 12 percent of the seats in the legislature, though the government has appointed some women to senior positions, including one of the two vice presidential posts. The government provides women with equal access to education, but many discriminatory laws remain in force.

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