Syria: Press freedom threatened by fear and intimidation

We have a little bit of freedom,” said Khaled al-Ekhetyar, a 29-year-old journalist for a Web site whose business card shows a face with hands covering up the eyes and mouth. “We can say things that can’t be said in print.”
But that slim margin is threatened by an ever present fog of fear and intimidation, and some journalists fear that it could soon be snuffed out. A draft law regulating online media would clamp down on Syrian bloggers and other journalists, forcing them to register as syndicate members and submit their writing for review. Other Arab countries regularly jail journalists who express dissident views, but Syria may be the most restrictive of all.
Most of the Syrian media is still owned by the state. Privately owned media outlets became legal in 2001, as the socialist economy slowly began to liberalize following the accession of President Bashar al-Assad. But much of the sector is owned by members of the Syrian “oligarchy” — relatives of Mr. Assad and other top government officials. All of it is subject to intimidation and heavy-handed control.
The first level is censorship,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, the founder of All4Syria.info, the independent Web site where Mr. Ekhetyar works. “The second level is when they send you statements and force you to publish them.” Like many other journalists and dissidents, Mr. Abdel Nour has left the country and now lives abroad.
Nothing surprising here, if we consider that Syria is a dictatorship (in which the power is inherited) and one of Iran’s best freinds.

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