Syria ‘to lift emergency law’

Syrian government adviser confirms to Al Jazeera that the country’s emergency law is to be lifted but fails to say when.

A Syrian government adviser has confirmed to Al Jazeera that the country’s emergency law is to be lifted.

Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, told Al Jazeera’s Cal Perry in the capital, Damascus, on Sunday that the law would “absolutely” be lifted, but failed to give a timetable.

The repeal of the emergency law, in place since the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power, has been a key demand of protesters who have taken to the streets in recent days to demand greater political freedoms.

The emergency law imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movement and authorises the arrest of “suspects or persons who threaten security”.

It also authorises the interrogation of any individual and the surveillance of personal communication as well as official control of the content of newspapers and other media before publication.

The state also announced a series of reforms, including the release of detainees and plans to form new laws on the media and licensing political parties.

Shaaban added that there will be a debate in parliament regarding the establishment of political parties.

“There are many issues which were decided, and which are being followed up with the president and the government,” she said. 

Pressed on when reforms would be implemented, she said that “one or two steps in the implementation [of reforms]” would be announced within a week.

Despite the week-long crackdown, Syria’s government had pledged to consider reforms and has released dozens of political prisoners in an effort to defuse demonstrations.

Al Jazeera’s Perry said the move to lift the emergency law would go some way towards appeasing the protesters’ demands.

“It will open up press freedom and political freedom. This is something that people have been calling for on the streets. Certainly it is a concession on the government’s part,” he said.

Dozens of pro-reform protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces and government supporters in towns and cities across the country.

Probe launch

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Shaaban also told Al Jazeera that the government will launch an investigation into the violence that occurred in Sanamin.

Meanwhile, in the northeastern port of Latakia, the army has been deployed after clashes resulted in the deaths of at least three people.

Rights groups however have claimed that the death toll could be higher.

Soldiers took to the streets of Latakia on Saturday night to help secret police and security forces control the port, residents said.

The army also increased checkpoints around the southern city of Deraa, where Human Rights Watch says 61 people have died.

“There is a feeling in Latakia that the presence of disciplined troops is necessary to keep order,” one resident told Reuters news agency.

“We do not want looting.”

Dozens of people have also died in protests in Deraa and in nearby Sanamin, Damascus and other towns over the last week.

There have also been protests in Hama, a northern city where in 1982, the forces of president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, killed thousands of people and razed much of the city’s old quarter to surpress an armed uprising by Islamist fighters.

The government blames armed groups for setting off the recent bloodshed.

Text messages

Syria’s interior ministry also urged residents to ignore text messages and leaflets to join a rally in Damascus’s Umayad Square on Sunday night for their own safety.

In a message on state television, the ministry called on people not to respond to the calls, which it said were “tendentious” and “untruthful”.

But pro-government Syrians have previously taken to the streets to show their support for al-Assad.

However, Al Jazeera’s Perry, said that while pro-government protests have been called for in Damascus, the authorities are advising people not to attend.

“They’re also sending residents text messages that they should not attend any demonstrations,” he said.

The unrest in Syria came to a head after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for scrawling graffiti inspired by pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in this most tightly controlled of Arab countries where the Baath Party has been in power for nearly 50 years.

In another move said to be aimed at placating protesters, Syrian authorities on Sunday released a lawyer – Diana Jawabra -along with 15 others who were arrested for taking part in a silent protest demanding the release of the children responsible for the graffiti.

This follows news of the freeing of 260 political prisoners.

Assad also faces calls to curb a pervasive security apparatus, free political prisoners and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies