Friday, July 16, 2010

Syria's decade of repression

Bashar al-Assad promised much when he came to power in Syria a decade ago but he has failed to broaden human rights

Nadim Houry
(Nadim Houry is Human Rights Watch's senior researcher for Syria and Lebanon, and director of the Beirut office. ), Friday 16 July 2010

".... As Human Rights Watch's researcher for Syria, I have interviewed many of the Syrians who in good faith and sincere hope for their country's future took up the mantle of criticism and democratisation, and were arrested as a consequence. They include a former member of parliament who Syria's rulers decided was too "independent"; human rights lawyers who denounced rampant torture by the country's notorious security services; bloggers who criticised everyday corruption; and Kurdish activists who demanded official recognition of their language. (Assad's human rights record is reviewed in a new Human Rights report here.)

We initially talked in hushed conversations in Damascus cafes, following their release from prison, and they would describe their ordeals. But soon I started seeing more of them in Beirut, where they had escaped from Syria, on their way to be resettled as refugees in far-away lands. With each passing year, the space for communication shrank, with meetings in Syria becoming more dangerous for activists and lawyers constantly tailed by government spies. Today, the internet remains one of the few areas where we can communicate "freely" – or so I hope, given Syria's increasing sophistication in monitoring online communications......

Assad enters his second decade in office with a much tighter grip on power. He is unchallenged internally and has solidified his international standing. But his legacy will ultimately depend on whether he will act on the promises he made in that distant July 2000. Otherwise, he will merely be remembered for extending his father's domestic one: government by repression."

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