Assad reforms press law, envoys head for Syria

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Assad reforms press law, envoys head for Syria

President Bashar Al Assad reformed Syria’s repressive press laws on Sunday as activists called a day of prayers for the ‘martyrs’ of the uprising against his rule and top envoys headed for Damascus.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sun 28 Aug 2011, 7:23 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:19 AM

The Arab League, meanwhile, announced a peace initiative for crisis-hit Syria, where government forces killed at least four more people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Assad issued a decree on a new media law that would lift the threat of imprisonment for journalists and allow greater access to information, the official news agency SANA reported.

The law partly liberalises repressive legislation under which journalists faced jail for, among other things, attacking ‘the prestige and dignity of the state, national unity and the morale of the army.’

‘There is an important article in the new law that bans the imprisonment of journalists. The law gives more freedom to have access to information,’ Elias Murad, head of the Syrian journalists’ union, told AFP.

Murad said that the reformed law lifts restrictions on the work of journalists, except for on ‘issues related to the nation, enemy and national unity, which is natural.’

However journalists can still face a fine of up to $21,000 for defamation.

Assad’s move was the latest to help end anti-regime protests, which erupted in mid-March and have resulted in the deaths of more than 2,200 people, according to the United Nations.

Earlier this month, Assad issued decrees on the formation of political parties as well as general elections.

On the regional front, Arab League chief Nabil Al Arabi is to head to Damascus carrying ‘an initiative to solve the crisis,’ a statement said after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday night.

They called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria ‘before it is too late’ and for ‘respecting the right of the Syrian people to live in security and respecting their legitimate aspirations’ for reforms.

It was unclear when Arabi would visit Damascus, but Russia also announced it was sending an unnamed top envoy to the Syrian capital on Monday, Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Moscow staunchly opposes bids by the United States and European powers to push for a UN Security Council resolution targeting Assad, and has offered a counter-resolution.

The Russian text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, urges Syria to expedite reforms.

President Abdullah Gul of neighbouring Turkey, whose once flourishing ties with Damascus were soured by Assad’s crackdown on anti-regime protests, said Ankara has now lost confidence in the Syrian regime.

‘Actually (the situation in Syria) reached a level that everything is too little, too late. We lost our confidence,’ Gul told Anatolia news agency.

In the latest bloodshed, two people were killed in Idlib province of northwest Syria near the Turkish border on Sunday in an operation mounted by security forces, said the Syrian Observatory.

Security forces also killed two people overnight in the Damascus suburb of Harasta as a crowd of some 2,500 tried to march toward the capital, the Syrian Observatory said.

And SANA reported that ‘gunmen’ killed a traffic policeman in the flashpoint central city of Homs.

The Syrian Revolution 2011, a key driver of the protests, called for prayers in cities around the world on Sunday ‘in churches and in mosques for the martyrs of freedom,’ in a message on Facebook.

But the Syrian authorities, in a statement carried by SANA, warned protesters to stay away from demonstrations in the capital being urged on Facebook.

‘The interior ministry asks citizens not to respond to calls on social networks to take part in demonstrations and gatherings in the principal squares of Damascus, for their own safety,’ it said.

The Observatory said on Sunday that Saudi Arabia has freed 164 Syrians arrested when they rallied in Riyadh to welcome Saudi King Abdullah’s decision to recall his ambassador from Damascus over Assad’s crackdown.

‘Saudi authorities have released 164 Syrian citizens who were arrested by the security services in Riyadh on August 12,’ it said.

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