The brutal regime of President Hafez al-Assad has all but eradicated professional journalism in Syria, once an intellectual and literary center of the Arab world. Newspapers and the broadcast media remain firmly under the control of the state, which discourages journalists from any reporting that might be interpreted as being critical of the regime. Arrest, torture, and long-term imprisonment have been very real threats to journalists during Assad's 26-year rule. Despite the country's relatively high literacy rate, newspapers have very low circulation figures because of the moribund state of the press. In the few outlets available for independent news, government censors stringently screen news content for material they deem inappropriate. Authorities prevented the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, for example, from distributing issues on at least 20 occasions.

Despite the release in December 1995 of some 1,200 political prisoners as part of a general amnesty commemorating the 25th year of Assad's rule, six journalists remain in Syrian prisons. Between 1992 and 1994, the Supreme State Security Court sentenced the six to prison sentences ranging from three to 15 years for nonviolent activities that included their involvement in political organizations and their affiliation with the leading Syrian human rights group, the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (CDF). Nizar Nayouf, an activist with the CDF who received a 10-year sentence in 1992, has remained in solitary confinement at Mezze military prison in Damascus since 1993.

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