Since the protests began in January 2011, there has been a severe clamp down on press freedom. Authorities have banned foreign and independent journalists from entering the country. In 2011-2012, Syria ranked 176th of 179 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, just above Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
Officially, the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. Article 38 states: ‘Every citizen has the right to freely and openly express his views in words, in writing, and through all other means of expression. He also has the right to participate in supervision and constructive criticism in a manner that safeguards the soundness of the domestic and nationalist structure and strengthens the socialist system. The state guarantees the freedom of the press, of printing, and publication in accordance with the law.’
In practice, this freedom was severely limited by the 2001 Press Law and the Penal Code, which imposed long prison sentences for ‘spreading false information’ (Press Law, Art. 51), for acts, writings, or speech unauthorized by the government that expose Syria to the danger of belligerent acts or that disrupt Syria’s ties with foreign states (Penal Code, Art. 278), for ‘weakening national sentiment or awaking racial or sectarian tensions’ (Penal Code, Art. 285), and for ‘spreading false or exaggerated information’ (Penal Code, Art. 286). Moreover, the Press Law requires all private publications to obtain a license from the government (Art. 12), a license that can be revoked or suspended at any time.