Syria cybercrime law could see minor online criticism result in 15 year jail terms
The draconian new changes were announced this week, laying out harsh penalties for vaguely worded offences including online criticism of the president, constitution, or state.
Syrian state media reported on Monday that Bashar al-Assad 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)," SANA reported.
The average monthly salary for a government worker is around $23, meaning an individual would have to work for more than 43 years to pay off the fine.
Human rights groups are concerned the law will make it easier for the Syrian state to monitor, control, and jail citizens for mild online criticism of the regime.
This could have particular significance for elements of the regime known to offer mild criticism of government policies and corruption.
It comes amid a devastating economic crisis for Syria which was caused by rampant corruption, mismanagement, and sanctions while the regime is unwilling to offer any concessions to the opposition to bring peace to the country.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights said it's concerned by the vague wording of the amendments which includes jail terms for "undermining the prestige of the state" and "compromising national unity".
Anyone found guilty of calling for changes to the constitution, government, or preventing authorities from "exercising their functions" will be jailed for between seven and 15 years.
Publishing "fake news" that "undermines the prestige of the state" or "prejudices national unity" will receive a jail sentence of between three to five years. This is widely interpreted as any criticism of the regime.
The opaque law will pose an additional burden on Syrians already fearful of the omnipresent intelligence services and a regime determined to crush all forms of criticism.
Recently the regime announced six-month jail terms for anyone spreading "disinformation", even from abroad.
The Assad regime has disappeared well over 100,000 alleged critics since the start of the 2011 uprising, with many feared executed or tortured to death.
Most were detained by the state's notorious security forces, which operate with complete independence from Syrian law detaining individuals without arrest warrants, court orders, or oversight by the judiciary.