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Syrian president ends five decades of emergency rule

After more than a month of anti-government protests, President Bashar al-Assad has lifted Syria’s longstanding emergency law, abolished controversial state security courts and ended a ban on public protests.

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday officially lifted Syria’s emergency law, which had been in place for nearly fifty years, while abolishing state security courts and enacting a new law that will allow citizens to protest peacefully.

The moves come after several weeks of deadly anti-regime protests, which erupted across Syria on March 15 and have been upping pressure on the government to loosen its restrictions on political freedom in the Arab nation.

The Syrian government approved a draft law ending the state of emergency on Tuesday, and news reports in Syria emerged Wednesday indicating that Assad would circumvent parliament in order to expedite the lifting of the rule.

‘Still a lot to be done’

But the abolition of Syria’s emergency law does not mean the country is on a decisive path toward democratic reform or that the protests will end, according to Khaled Issa, a Syrian lawyer who spoke to FRANCE 24. “Assad could have done it directly and rapidly, but he decided to buy himself some time by drawing out the lifting of the emergency rule and bringing attention to it,” he said.

Issa added that Assad likely prolonged the process to give guarantees to those who did not want the reforms, including conservatives from the ruling Baath party and senior officials of the Syrian army “who benefit from the system of emergency rule and have no desire to see things change”.

The emergency law was established in 1963 when the Baath party seized power. It prohibited several civil liberties, such as public gatherings, and authorised the arrest of any individual thought to pose a security threat.

State security courts operated independently from the conventional judicial system and were used to prosecute people accused of challenging the government. The verdicts reached in these courts could not be appealed. Rights groups inside and outside Syria frequently condemned the courts as institutions used for the persecution of citizen activists and political opponents.

For Issa, the end of emergency rule is just the beginning of what needs to be accomplished in Syria. “There are still a lot of things to be done,” he said. “We want widespread democratic reforms.”

Among the specific reforms Issa would like to see introduced are the creation of a new constitution and the declaration of an amnesty for political prisoners.

 

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