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Opposition to Stay Quiet on Baath Anniversary

(7-Mar-08)
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Syrian opposition figures are not planning any protests against the government’s emergency law as Syria prepares to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Baath party’s rise to power on March 8.



The Syrian government has maintained a state of emergency since the Baathists took control in 1963 because of the country’s continuing conflict with Israel and terrorist threats.



Human rights groups argue that Syria’s emergency law continues to hinder democratic progress. Activists and some lawyers have also insisted that state of emergency is illegal because it was declared by the Revolutionary Command Council and was not approved by the government.



Under the law, the authorities can “preventively arrest anyone suspected of endangering public security and order”, among other offences. The law restricts individual freedoms, such as the right to meet and travel, and the prime minister is given broad powers as the martial governor of the country.



Syria said it would loosen the emergency law in 2005, but arrests of opposition figures in recent months have curbed protests and sit-ins around Damascus. No opposition groups are expected to protest on March 8. Most plan to issue statements condemning it and demanding the emergency law’s annulment, according to IWPR sources in Syria.



"Because the democratic forces are currently being harassed, no action on the ground is possible,” said an activist in Damascus. “The arrest and security campaigns are continuing."



Dozens of activists have been arrested since December. Many, including leaders in the most prominent opposition group, the Damascus Declaration, continue to be held.



Damascus Declaration loyalists in western countries are organising protests for March 8, including a sit-in in the Human Rights Square in Paris.



The law has “violated freedom and civil rights and allowed corruption and nepotism to spread”, said a Syrian opposition figure who requested anonymity.



“The security apparatus controls the judiciary’s decisions and all other important decisions that affect citizens.”



(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)

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