Population: 22,500,000
Capital: Damascus

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2001200220032004200520062007200820092010

2010 Key Developments: While Syria's first lady promoted the development of civil society activity in apolitical fields in 2010, the authorities continued to impose harsh restrictions on fundamental human rights. Those subjected to monitoring, intimidation, and imprisonment during the year included journalists, dissident writers, suspected Islamists, Kurdish activists, and gay men.

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. Corruption is widespread, and bribery is often necessary to navigate the bureaucracy. Those arrested on corruption charges rarely face serious punishment.

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, and criticism of government policy is tolerated, provided it is nuanced and does not criticize the president. Syrians access the internet only through state-run servers, which block more than 160 sites. In June 2010 authorities arrested a blogger who wrote on a popular independent site for Syrian news and analysis, and at least five journalists and online dissidents remained in extended detention as of that month. Although the constitution requires that the president be a Muslim, there is no state religion in Syria, and freedom of worship is generally respected. The government continued its periodic campaign against religious extremism in 2010, and imposed restrictions on the facial veil. Academic freedom is heavily restricted. Public demonstrations are illegal without official permission, which is typically granted only to pro- government groups. All nongovernmental organizations must register with the government, which generally denies registration to reformist or human rights groups. Notwithstanding the first lady's drive to increase Syrian participation in civil society in 2010, leaders of unlicensed human rights groups have frequently been jailed for publicizing state abuses. The state of emergency in force since 1963 gives the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge. Many of the estimated 2,500 to 3,000 political prisoners in Syria have never been tried. The security agencies, which operate without judicial oversight, routinely extract confessions by torturing suspects and detaining their family members. The Kurdish minority faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression. Opposition figures, human rights activists, and relatives of exiled dissidents are often prevented from traveling abroad, and many ordinary Kurds lack the requisite documents to leave the country. The government provides women with equal access to education and appoints women to senior positions, but many discriminatory laws remain in force. Authorities appeared to crack down on homosexuals in 2010.

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