Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Syria
As of December 31, 1998

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Syria's press languishes in the iron grip of the state, as it has for much of President Hafez al-Assad's 28-year authoritarian rule. Independent journalism has been virtually nonexistent since the regime's eradication of political opposition in the early 1980s.

Authorities maintain tight control over the dissemination of news and information through the media. The Ministry of Information closely supervises the country's state-run dailies and broadcast media, and provides strict content guidelines for editors and journalists. State controls also extend to foreign newspapers, as authorities continued to censor the few foreign publications allowed into the country. The London-based daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, which began distribution in Syria in 1997, was barred from distributing issues in the country on several occasions for what its editor described as its coverage of Syrian affairs. Because of the state's monopoly over domestic media, increasing numbers of Syrians rely on satellite dishes to access foreign news programming.

The year's most ominous development involved Nizar Nayyouf, a leading member of the independent Committees for the Defense of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (CDF) and editor in chief of its monthly newsletter Sawt al-Democratiyya. Nayyouf, who is serving a 10-year sentence in solitary confinement in Mezze military prison, is gravely ill and may die unless he receives immediate treatment for Hodgkins disease. Syrian authorities have refused him treatment unless he pledges to refrain from political activity and renounces alleged "false statements" he made about the human rights situation in Syria.

In a September 24 letter hand-delivered to Syria's Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa at the United Nations, CPJ's Vice Chairman Terry Anderson urged Nayyouf's immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

| Attacks on the Press in 1998 |