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The situation for human rights defenders (HRDs) in Syria has rapidly deteriorated since the beginning of the government's violent crackdown against nation-wide peaceful protests in 2011. HRDs, who already faced significant difficulties in remaining active under a highly repressive regime, have since been at even higher risk of direct targeting and persecution, including arbitrary arrest and detention, malicious prosecution, death threats, restrictions on their freedom of movement, abduction, defamation, and other forms of harassment and intimidation.
As a result of the crackdown and the violence that ensured, Syria has become one of the most dangerous countries in the region for human rights defenders monitoring and reporting on human rights abuses and advocating on behalf of victims.
The deterioration in the situation of HRDs is as much related to intensified use of violence by the Assad regime as it is to the offensive of the armed militant groups that have proliferated since the beginning of the uprising and which try and control civil society in the areas under their control. Much like the regime itself, these non-state actors increasingly employ tactics of intimidation, death threats, abduction and incommunicado detention against human rights defenders, either because of ideological disagreements or because they are involved in documenting abuses committed by these groups. There are also reports of armed Islamist groups issuing death fatwas against HRDs and condoning their assassinations on grounds of apostasy. A very significant number of HRDs were forced to leave the country or go into hiding for fear of losing their lives.
Enforced disappearances, which puts HRDs at acute risk of torture and ill-treatment, are widespread and committed with impunity by the security forces with the purported aim of obtaining information or coercing confessions. HRDs have been abducted and eventually found to be in detention.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed under Syrian law but in reality there are extensive limitations to these rights, with reports of scores of arrests and detentions of human rights defenders campaigning for human rights and of democracy activists calling for democratic reforms. Online monitoring and censorship of the internet is commonplace, and the Syrian government has a long standing policy of surveillance, censorship and orchestrating blackouts. There have also been reports of human rights defenders being detained for their online activity. The Electronic Syrian Army, believed to be financially supported by the Assad regime and openly declaring allegiance to the government, has deployed an aggressive cyber strategy which involves targeting social media sites including YouTube and Facebook pages of opposition news sources.
Freedom of assembly is virtually non-existent, since those wishing to hold a meeting or demonstration are required to submit a written request to the authorities, outlining the objectives of the gathering and the names of those in charge. There have been numerous reports of human rights defenders being arbitrarily arrested and detained in connection with peaceful demonstrations. Government forces repeatedly use lethal and other excessive force against peaceful and other protesters. Many people were shot by snipers while participating in mass protests or attending funerals of people killed during these protests. Today, HRDs are additionally at risk of retaliation by armed extremists when they make public statements that implicate these groups in human rights violations, or organize a protest in an area occupied by these groups.
Women HRDs suffer a double layer of discrimination and are targeted for their activism for equality. Groups advocating for minority rights, such as the Kurdish community are also highly at risk, particularly as the quest for regional control continues to intensify.
19 November 2013
23 August 2013
05 June 2013
17 May 2013
03 April 2013
Syria: Arrest and ongoing incommunicado detention of human rights defenders Mr Salah Shamiyya and Mr Rudy Uthman
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