The sole candidate at presidential elections, President Assad was returned to power as head of state in 2007 with more than 97% of the vote. More than eight years after taking power the Syrian president still refuses any compromise including on maintaining the state of emergency, in force since 1963. New political parties are still not allowed and a strict press law remains in place. Syria’s isolation after the 2005 assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri has made the regime take a harder line towards journalists and political activists.
Arrests, state security police summonses, bans on leaving the country and blocking of Internet websites have increased. Over a dozen pro-democrat militants were jailed in 2007 and in total at least seven journalists and cyber-dissidents are imprisoned in the country. President Assad told the US TV network ABC there were no political prisoners in Syria. “We have only prisoners who were involved in terrorist attacks and those who have broken the law,” he said.
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