The regime enforced an effective media blackout in March, banning international journalists from reporting or entering the country and detaining local journalists who tried to cover protests seeking an end to Bashar al-Assad’s rule. In a widespread campaign to silence media coverage, the government detained and assaulted journalists, expelled foreign journalists, and disabled mobile phones, landlines, electricity, and the Internet in cities where the protests broke out. The regime also extracted passwords of social media sites from journalists by using violence, and defaced social networking pages, while the pro-government online group Syrian Electronic Army hacked social media sites and posted pro-regime comments. In April, Al-Jazeera suspended its Damascus bureau after several of its journalists were harassed and received threats. Three days after the brutal assault of famed cartoonist Ali Ferzat in August, the government passed a new media law that “banned” the imprisonment of journalists and allowed for greater freedom of expression. It then followed up by jailing several journalists. In November, cameraman Ferzat Jarban was the first journalist to be killed in Syria in connection with his work since CPJ began keeping detailed records in 1992.
Syrian blogger Tal al-Mallohi was arrested in December 2009 at the age of 19. In February 2011, she was sentenced to five years in prison for violating Syria's state security laws. In a May 2011 report, CPJ named Syria one of the World's 10 Online Oppressors.
The victims were Ferzat Jarban and Basil al-Sayed, videographers who documented political unrest in highly restricted areas. Jarban was found dead in November, a day after being arrested in Al-Qasir. Al-Sayed was shot by security forces while filming in Homs in December.
The regime used detentions as a method to silence journalists' coverage of the revolution. CPJ identified at least eight journalists and bloggers imprisoned for their work. Due to the difficulty in obtaining information from Syria, the figure could be higher.
The United Nations estimated about 5,000 people were killed in Syria after protests began in March. The regime responded to the civil unrest in brutal fashion, including a crackdown on media.
Under a law adopted in August, journalists faced fines
of up to 1 million pounds (US$21,000) for vaguely defined violations such as coverage that harmed “national unity and
national security,” according to CPJ research. Syria was one of at least three
governments that considered media laws in 2011 that
were portrayed as reforms but imposed punitive measures for critical reporting.
Other regional measures, passed and pending:
Saudi Arabia: With the May amendments to the media law, first-time violators could face fines of 500,000 Saudi riyals (US$135,000), while second-time offenders could draw a 1 million riyal (US$270,000) fine and a potential ban on working, according to CPJ research.
Jordan: Under a bill passed by the lower house of parliament, journalists could face fines of up to 60,000 Jordanian dinars (US $84,600) for publishing news about corruption “without solid facts.” The upper house sent the bill to committee in late year.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.