Middle East

Syrians to be imprisoned for up to 15 years for minor criticism of regime, under new cybercrime law

Updated Syrian legislation could see Syrians imprisoned for up to 15 years over minor criticism of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, in what is the latest form of censorship implemented throughout the country.

According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Damascus this week issued Law No. 20 of 2022, which “reorganises” the existing cybercrime law enacted in 2012. “According to the law, the penalties and punishment on the cybercrime ranges between imprisonment up to 15 years and penalties up to SYP 15 million ($12,000),” the paper announced.

Anyone found guilty of calling for changes to the government or constitution – already a crime – will be further penalised under the law which would make it easier for Syrian security services to monitor, control, and detain between seven to 15 years those who express negative views about the Assad regime online.

Furthermore, those found guilty of publishing “fake news” which “undermines the prestige of the state” or “prejudices national unity” will be handed a sentence of between three to five years’ imprisonment.

READ: Syria regime acknowledges deaths of 1,056 people forcibly disappeared, report reveals

The amendments to the existing law come after the regime recently announced that anyone found guilty of spreading “disinformation” would receive six months prison terms.

Human rights groups have criticised Damascus’s updated legislation as not only a way to make it easier for the regime to crack down on even the smallest forms of dissent or freedom of expression, but also that it would enable it to do so through the practice of enforced disappearances.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian citizens have already been disappeared by the regime’s security services over the past decade, and are often never seen again but feared executed or tortured to death.

Even if a Syrian found guilty is able to avoid a jail term for minor criticism, the massive fine would mean that – as a government worker earns an average monthly salary of $23 – one would have to work for over 43 years to pay off that fine.

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