Freedom campaign calls for the internet “to be unleashed” in SyriaThursday, 8 July 2010
• Syria one of the world’s worst “internet enemies”
• Hundreds of websites banned and censored
Reporters Without Borders have shone a light on to the internet freedoms of Syria, a country currently being courted by Western powers in an effort to entice the nation away from its alliance with Iran. In light of the report, Ribal al Assad – Director of the Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria – has called on the Syrian authorities to “unleash the democratic power of the internet.”
In a speech to the Mid Atlantic Club, hosted by the English Speaking Union, Ribal al Assad said;
“I call on the Syrian regime to lift the state of emergency immediately and allow the people to exercise their rights of association and expression.”
Syria has been ruled under emergency law for over 40 years, allowing the regime to censor the internet and the media, as well providing cover for the arrest of regime critics.
“I welcome U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton's call to the Syrian regime to improve Internet freedoms. I am delighted that she regards the free flow of communications as a central tenet of her foreign policy, and sees the Internet as a key tool for spreading democracy.
Sadly the Syrian regime is not so keen on having freedom of expression and allowing its people to use the internet.”
Only 16.5% of Syrians use the internet. This is one of the lowest penetration rates in the world. The regime has blocked over 200 websites. These are mainly sites which question its policies. Censorship particularly targets social networking and blog platforms as part of a policy to prevent freedom activists getting organised and bringing people together.
Blogspot, Maktoob, Facebook and Youtube are all blocked.
Internet users are subject to surveillance from the regime. Website owners are legally required to keep the personal data of anyone who posts comments or articles online.
Security agents monitor internet cafes and the owners are obliged to identify their clients and report on the "illegal" websites they visit. Internet activists can and have been jailed for a minimum term of three years for "weakening the nation's morale."
Assad told the audience, made up of politicians, diplomats and journalists, that Syria cannot reach its democratic potential unless the people are allowed to communicate and engage with the twenty-first century.
He concluded with a call for the Syrian regime “to end press and internet censorship and unleash social media.”
Notes for Editors:
The Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria (ODFS) is an independent body, which promotes democracy, freedom and human rights in Syria and the Middle East.
ODFS researches and analyses current events and policy in Syria and the Middle East, and provides information to parliamentarians, civil servants, the media, think tanks, academics, students, the public and all other interested parties in Britain and around the world.
Ribal Al-Assad is the Founder and Director of The Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria. He is an international campaigner for democracy, freedom and human rights. Ribal, 35, was born in Syria and has lived in the West since being exiled from his country as a child. He brings new ideas and perspectives to campaigning for democracy and freedom in Syria and the Middle East and is a regular speaker on political and human rights platforms. Ribal regularly interacts with politicians, civil servants, academics, journalists, think tanks, pro-democracy, and human rights groups all around the world.
Ribal is also Chairman of the Arabic News Network (ANN) satellite television channel, which broadcasts throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa and promotes democracy, freedom and peace in the Middle East.
Ribal is extensively involved in promoting interfaith dialogue and relations between Muslims, Jews and Christians around the globe. Over the last few years Ribal has successfully been involved in helping to tackle inter-religious and intra-religious conflict and violence in Lebanon. One of his notable achievements was to help facilitate a rapprochement between the Alawite and the Sunni Muslims in North Lebanon.
The Organisation for Democracy and Freedom in Syria campaigns for:
- An end to the State of Emergency, in place since 1963
- A commitment to human rights for all groups, religions and minorities
- An end to corruption and the liberalization of the Syrian economy
- An end to press and internet censorship
- Greater rights for Syrian women and their greater representation in the political, economic, and social fields
- Peace in the Middle East through a two state solution with a viable, independent and democratic state of Palestine and the return of all of the Golan Heights to Syria in a land for peace deal
- An end to extremism and violence
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