New York, September 28, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by harsh content restrictions contained in the new press decree announced by President Bashar al-Assad on September 22.

“While CPJ welcomes the legalization of private media in Syria, which had been banned since 1963, the aggressive restrictions appear to negate the positive aspects of the law,” said CPJ executive director, Ann Cooper.

The new law, known as Decree 50 of the year 2001, was published on September 23 in Al-Baath, the official daily newspaper of the Syrian ruling party. The law states that private publications are henceforth permitted to exist and operate in a free and unrestricted manner.

However, the decree requires all private publications to be licensed by the government. The prime minister can reject any license application if he decides that the proposed publication would threaten Syria’s “national interest.”

The decree also states that private media may not report on military affairs or on any topic that might “harm” national security or “national unity.” Papers are also banned from covering closed court hearings or closed sessions of parliament.

Private publications can lose their licenses if they print anything deemed to “incite revolt” against the government.

Publishers who violate the ban on covering military matters can be jailed for up to three years and fined up to 1 million pounds (US$19,000). Any publisher who “contacts foreign nations” or accepts money from foreign sources can be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to 100,000 pounds (US$1,900).

Any publisher found to have printed false information can be jailed for up to three years and fined 1 million pounds.

Publishers who “encourage violent crime” in print face anywhere from six months to three years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 Syrian pounds (US$1,900-3,800).