It is an established fact that freedom of expression is a great human value, which includes freedom of thought, creativity, and freedom of writing, in addition to freedom of the media and the press of all forms: paper, electronic or audio-visual. It is also no secret that the right to freedom of expression and media freedoms are not only individual rights, but a great privilege of the larger societies. The violation of these freedoms would have society-wide repercussions, as they are the foundation for building societies and democracies by allowing the free flow of information, raising awareness, and informing citizens of their rights and duties.
In international law, access to information and freedom of expression are one and the same. Both have had a huge boost with the advent of World Wide Web and social media. Some governments have used every possible means from the outset to close this space down or subjugate it, through laws issued under the pretext of violation prevention, blurring the space between regulation and restriction, and twisting the relationship between freedom and constraint, between the rule and the exception. Therefore, limiting the individuals’ rights to freedom of expressions has become the rule, with absence of a freedom of expression philosophy and a standard essence thereof, whether in legislation, policies, or practices.
Since 1963, the policies of the successive governments in Syria have been hostile towards freedom of expression. Syria has tumbled to the bottom of global press freedom indices, along with such countries as North Korea and Iran. In an extensive study conducted in 2005 on internet censorship in the MENA region, Human Rights Watch concluded that “the Syrian Government relies on a combination of repressive laws and illegal measures to suppress the right of Syrians to free access to and dissemination of information online.” In 2007, the Organization called upon the Syrian Government to “immediately release writers and activists it detains solely on charges of expression or for posting information online.»
Not only has the Syrian Government silenced and banned any form of free media, but it has also systematically restricted and blocked access to the cyber space. In a 2008, first-of-its-kind study titled “Taming the Internet”, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression documented “161 blocked websites until 28 April 2008, which [was] just an estimate figure of the total number of blocked websites verified by the SCM team”. YouTube was among the victims!
Within the authorities’ ongoing efforts towards complete dominance over the digital space and marginalization of all forms of freedom of expression and opinion online, the Syrian President issued Law No. 20 of 2022 on 18 April, which reconfigures the criminal legal rules of cybercrime stipulated in Decree No. 17 of 2012, after the People’s Assembly approved the draft law submitted in December 2021 by the Ministry of Communications and Technology. Taking effect on 17 May 2022, a month after it was issued, the Law reflects a close-minded and repressive state orientation, contrary to all international standards of freedoms and freedom of expression in particular.
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