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Syrian Blogger Sentenced to Three Years in Jail 211

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hope-he-gets-net-access dept.
blind biker writes "The AP reports (via the Herald Tribune) of Tarek Bayassi, a 24-year old Syrian blogger sentenced to three years in jail for 'undermining the prestige of the state and weakening national morale.' The original sentence was six years but it was commuted on appeal. Apparently, this isn't an isolated case in Syria."
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Syrian Blogger Sentenced to Three Years in Jail

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  • by sm62704 (957197) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @09:41AM (#23402000) Journal
    Why does this surprise anybody?

    Since 1963 the country [wikipedia.org] has been governed by the Baath Party; the head of state since 1970 has been a member of the Assad family. Syria's current president is Bashar al-Assad, son of Hafez al-Assad, who held office from 1970 until his death in 2000.[1]

    ...Upon assuming power, Hafez al-Assad moved quickly to create an organizational infrastructure for his government and to consolidate control.

    Since when have any citizens of any dictatorship ever had freedom of speech? If he were Chinese his family would be paying for a bullet.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Hm, US not much different folks; banned book == no freedom of speech. ( http://www.paynoincometax.com/federalmafia.htm [paynoincometax.com] )

      and speaking of which, about the the writers's trial, no due process either, seems that a judge may rule that you are not allowed to mention the law on your defense, under penalty of jail time. :-|

      • by DrLang21 (900992) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @10:21AM (#23402604)
        This book was "Previously banned" by the admission of the author. Right along with Lolita and others. It is banned no more. Don't forget about the Sedition Act when John Adams was President. Christ, it's not like anyone is claming that the US is perfect.

        Find a freedom that is PRESENTLY being violated in the US to bitch about. It's not hard to do.
        • Don't forget the Gag Rule [wikipedia.org] used by congress to stop discussion on slavery for 13 years.
        • by sm62704 (957197)
          Find a freedom that is PRESENTLY being violated in the US to bitch about. It's not hard to do.

          Indeed. I've done it here [slashdot.org] and I did it back when I posted at K5* [kuro5hin.org]. But the fact remains that even though the politicians and cops and rich people would dearly love to get rid of that pesky Constitution (and at times have succeeded), we are no match for Syria when it comes to abusing human rights.
      • Im not an american, but I admire a whole lot of the American Culture (and despise another whole lot of it, and I think most Americans agree with me on that stance). In particular, I remember a legal episode where some conservative punk got to ban some Beatnik books (Naked Lunch, for example), and that got to court, and Norman Mailer attended, and in the end the judge set the precedent that if any book in the U.S. has any kind of interesting information for a sizeable number of people related to the topics t
    • he didn't just disappear or have an appointment with a bullet.

      perhaps the fact what he did was so easily available saved his life.

      I do have to wonder how some people here actually thinks the Syrian leadership is any shape or form actually embarrassed by their handling of it let alone concerned what you think about it. On the world stage nothing much more expected out of a country like this and they wouldn't care anyway.

      This is one the of many countries that only exists because its not PC or financially exp
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jackharrer (972403)
      You need to understand that you cannot rule countries like Syria in the same way as US. It's also pretty true about, for example, Russia.

      If you don't have strong government there they will descend into anarchy and civil war. Look at Lebanon and you'll understand. Whole middle east is like that. Don't just watch what they show on CNN as quite a big part of transmission is just lost during editing.

      My brother-in-law is Syrian (albeit Christian, not Muslim) and I met his family many times. Situation there is mo
      • by Otter (3800) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @10:33AM (#23402836) Journal
        You need to understand that you cannot rule countries like Syria in the same way as US...If you don't have strong government there they will descend into anarchy and civil war.

        I'm old enough to remember when people said that about Latin America and East Asia, that only a sufficiently dictatorial rightist or leftist (depending on the speaker's own prejudices) could run a stable government.

        In fact, it turns out that Mexicans, Koreans, Brazilians and Singaporeans are quite as capable of living in democracies as Western Europeans are.

        • I'm old enough to remember when people said that about Latin America and East Asia

          They said the same thing about Germany and Japan before that. Little to differentiate Germany post-Weimer and Iraq, truth be told.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Singapore?

          you are using Singapore, the country where they can fine you for not flushing a toilet in a public restroom, where possession of marijuana is punishable by death as an argument FOR people being able to live like we do in the Western world?
        • though Indirect succession [wikipedia.org]. Singapore also supports regime in Myanmar (Burma) [badasf.org]. They usually site racial tensions between Malay, Indian and ruling Chinese class as reason for continuing the dictatorship. "Elections" are held for appearances sake [blogspot.com], but while I was living there they seized assets of any opposition politician that looked like they would come close to winning a seat, usually on phony charges like "libel" or such. If some area did manage to elect a representative not approved by the state, then th
        • In what way exactly is Singapore a democracy?
      • by CowTipperGore (1081903) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @10:59AM (#23403258)

        You need to understand that you cannot rule countries like Syria in the same way as US. It's also pretty true about, for example, Russia. If you don't have strong government there they will descend into anarchy and civil war...Whole middle east is like that.
        Grotesque racism and ignorance is modded Interesting?
        • by MrMr (219533)
          Why not? 'Interesting' is not 'Good' or 'True'
          For me this sort of ignorance is as interesting as a traffic accident.
          (I admit however, that with the moderation the poster will probably think he has made an interesting remark, not that his mental condition exhibits an interesting pathology).
          Btw. Modding this '+1 interesting' is inappropriate.
        • by Knara (9377)

          Things can be interesting, even if not correct or pleasant.

          • Things can be interesting, even if not correct or pleasant.
            Sure, but this isn't mythology or science fiction - it is everyday common ignorance and prejudice. Further, I would wager that the mods found the original post in agreement with their own ignorance, not simply interesting.
            • by Knara (9377)

              Tricky business there, attempting to divine the intent of a moderator. Shows a lot about your world outlook, though.

      • by sm62704 (957197)
        If you don't have strong government there they will descend into anarchy and civil war.

        When you have a government that is not representative of the will of the populace you have to have strong government there or they will descend into anarchy and civil war. You do realise that the US had its own Civil War once?

        Look what alcohol prohibition did to our nation. Look what the "war on [some] drugs" is doing to our inner cities today. When the will of the governed clashes with the will of the government, violenc
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        You need to understand that you cannot rule countries like Syria in the same way as US. It's also pretty true about, for example, Russia. If you don't have strong government there they will descend into anarchy and civil war.

        I'm Russian. We didn't descend into anarchy and civil war in 90s, despite all the democracy. We did come quite close early on, but by late 90s, things were clearly improving. Of course, that's when the currently ruling "strong hand" elite stepped in and took over, using essentially th

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Good old Hafez also massacred 20,000 of his own people at Hama. Violations of human rights are nothing new to Syria, just ask the Lebanese.
    • by l-ascorbic (200822) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @10:58AM (#23403238)
      It sounds unlikely, but Bashar isn't really to blame here. He was never meant to be president. His brother was groomed for the role, but died in a car accident. When Hafez died, Bashar was working as an eye doctor in London. He was rushed back to inherit a job he never wanted. After he took control he quickly put in place measures to liberalise the country, loosening restriction on freedom of speech among others. However, this didn't last long. it soon became clear that he was not the one with the power. The real leaders were the senior official of the Baath Party who had been put in place by his father. They clamped down and reversed his reforms.

      While he is the one whose face is on posters on the side of every building and on the wall of every shop and home, he's not in charge. There's obviously a lot of brainwashing going on, but he really does seem to be very popular in Syria. A lot of this is bread and circuses: people generally have a good quality of life, so tend to ignore the politics.

      In any case, Syria is a beautiful country, with incredibly friendly people. It's sad to see stories like this, but there are signs of improvement in the regime. Even the fact that he had a trial and had his sentence reduced is a progress. It's unlikely he would have had that under Hafez. Despite the recent furore over the alleged nuclear reactor, there seems to be signs of progress towards peace with Israel. Only a couple of weeks ago, Turkey's president Erdogan was brokering talks about a possibly treaty. Time will tell.
      • by mapkinase (958129) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @11:30AM (#23403716) Homepage Journal
        "In any case, Syria is a beautiful country, with incredibly friendly people." I testify to that. Everybody in my mosque is very nice, but Syrians stand out even on that background.
        • Indeed. Syria is the only place I've been to in the middle east where if someone comes up to you and offers you tea or wants a chat, it's not just because they want to sell you something. They really are that friendly. If you believed the US State Department you'd think they were all terrorists and fanatics. They're even friendly to Americans, Brits and Danes.
          • by mapkinase (958129)
            I have been to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It really depends on how busy is the place you are visiting. Makkah is much busier than Madina (during Hajj time), so one could expect nicer attitude in Madina.

            In Madina, they do not have trash bins, somebody sees you wanting to get rid of the napkin and comes with the small trash collector on a stick. During Hajj, there are millions of people around Masjid an-Nabawwi (main mosque of the Prophet, sal Allahu 'alaihi wa sallam), yet the place is much cleaner than any s
    • by Hognoxious (631665) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @11:01AM (#23403296) Homepage Journal
      It could be worse. They could have cameras in the streets and use them to fine people who run red lights. Imagine that!
  • Well ... somebody should probably explain the court that they did much more than the blogger, to undermine the prestige of the state (and to show the national morale as lacking), by simply convicting him.
    • by adpsimpson (956630) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @10:13AM (#23402476)

      This is actually very insightful.

      The point of free speech is more than just to allow anyone to say their bit. It includes the fact that reasoned and fair debate will do more to undermine any truly dangerous people than any system of censorship could.

      There are many examples of this, but the one that springs to mind is BNP (British National Party - right wing skinheads aka Neo Nazis in the UK) being invited to open debates versus simply being sidelined. Every time they are invited to express themselves and engage the mainstream media, they make complete fools of themselves, proving themselves to be nothing more than racist skinheads. Banning them would fan the flames - allowing them free (even if racist and offensive) speech does far more to kill their support.

      Suppression of an ideology almost always does more to drive people towards it than free discussion.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by mapkinase (958129)
        The case of Syria is the case of the country run by secularist apostates. It is amazing how isolated Syria is. It is despised by Muslims for secularism and it is despised by the West for lack of democracy.

        Despite their despise of the leadership, Muslims reluctantly side with Syria on the matter of resistance to Western neocolonialism in the form of globalization and democracy and to Western colonialism in the form of "Israel".

        Neocons who chant "Syria next" in their thinky-tanky gatherings, should be warned
        • by qbzzt (11136)
          removing their armed forced from the region and stop supporting "Israel".

          How would removing US support from Israel (it's a real country you know, no need for quotation marks) improve Syria or Syrian-US relations?

          1. The Syrian government would still be a dictatorship.

          2. Dictators need a boogeyman, the bigger the better.

          3. "The West" is still a bigger boogeyman than Israel by itself.
          • by mapkinase (958129)
            Well, it seems like you did not read my comment attentively. I was talking not only removing US support of "Israel" but also dropping neocolonialist export of democracy.

            And the West is "boogeman" is only because of heavy handed push for democracy.
            • by AK Marc (707885)
              And the West is "boogeman" is only because of heavy handed push for democracy.

              And here I thought it was because we are filled with complete nutcases that have to enclose country names in quotes to marginalize them.
        • by 0111 1110 (518466)

          The only difference here is that there is another choice - radical change in their neo- and plain vanilla colonialist policy by removing their armed forced from the region and stop supporting "Israel".

          What this has to do with the topic at hand I am not sure, but why does Syria care who some distant country (the US) wants to be allies with? Are Syria and Israel at war? Is Syria pissed because if Israel were not a US ally they would be easier to annex into a part of Syria? Israel is the only western style democracy in the middle east. The US would like to see more of those. Why should we not be supporting it? Can someone please explain to me where all this hatred for Israel is coming from. It's just a com

          • by mapkinase (958129)
            "What this has to do with the topic at hand I am not sure, " It has everything to do with the topic and its importance to you. Slashdot playing its role in the propaganda machine that convinces people in US that is ok to patronize other country on the subject of its government system.

            "Are Syria and Israel at war? " Irrelevant question. "Israel" is the sole source of Middle East instability. Establishment of one single state that will accept Palestinian refuges in their original residencies is the only way t
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by removing their armed forced from the region and stop supporting Israel.

          This is what you sound like here. If you can't see the similarities, watch the movie.

          Sheila: Times have changed
          Our kids are getting worse
          They won't obey their parents
          They just want to fart and curse!
          Sharon: Should we blame the government?
          Liane: Or blame society?
          Dads: Or should we blame the images on TV?
          Sheila: No, blame Israel!
          Everyone: Blame Israel!
          Sheila: With all their beady little eyes
          And flapping heads so full of lies
          Everyone: Blame Israel! Blame Israel!
          Sheila: We need to form a full ass

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by orzetto (545509)

      You and that court have a different appreciation of the term "Prestige": you think that a state has prestige when it respects human rights and allows freedom of speech. They think that prestige means that everybody is so scared of the state that no one dares to speak against it.

      Anyway, in my country a journalist just got media-lynched because he pointed out that the new leader [wikipedia.org] of the upper house of the Parliament was a business associate of convicted mafiosi. I suppose Power always has a way to get rid of

      • They think that prestige means that everybody is so scared of the state that no one dares to speak against it.

        Then Bashar al-Assad [wikipedia.org] and his cronies are believing their own propaganda. The definition of prestige, in the hard-power [wikipedia.org] sense, is and always has been what even your external enemies will grudgingly acknowledge. Syria is a third-rate military power and their economy is below average at best. Their lack of prestige is the result of poor leadership, not people speaking their minds.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CubeRootOf (849787)
      The key here is that they undermined the prestige of the state with other states, not with thier own people.

      The Goal of this court is to keep INTERNAL morale high. They don't care what we think of them. They are trying to keep thier message consistent within thier country.

      Similar things were done here not so long ago, and just as publically, if not more so. Do you know what happened to folks who said that 'maybe communism isn't so bad?' during the 50's?

      The guy wasn't shot, he wasn't maimed, his family wasn'
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @09:45AM (#23402072)
    Lese majesty [wikipedia.org] has been a crime since Roman times. Remember, it's only treason if you lose (the revolution).
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @09:48AM (#23402128)
    Better story about Tariq Bayassi here:
    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.almarfaa.net%2F%3Fp%3D117 [google.com]

    His "Free Tariq" site:
    http://209.85.171.104/translate_c?hl=en&u=http://ahmadblogs.net/freetariq [209.85.171.104]

    The problem I have with all of this is that we simply don't have very much evidence to go on as spectators. If someone was being brought up on trumped up charges, it would make a difference to me whether he was Fred Phelps or Fre Rogers. Justice should be blind, but sometimes taking the blindfold off and snuffing out truly vile people for the sake of the rest of us.

    There isn't enough information at all about Tariq that is easily available, so we don't know if he was just bad mouthing Assad or if he was organizing assassination attempts on the President. Without context, I guess we should just cry for Free (as in Speech) Speech.
    • by Dog-Cow (21281)
      You make it seem like organizing assassination attempts against Assad should be a crime.
  • Doublespeak? (Score:3, Informative)

    by PJ The Womble (963477) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @09:49AM (#23402140)
    There's obviously a couple of homonyms at work here... "prestige of the state" and "weakening national morale". Because here in the UK at least, our perception of what makes us prestigious is that we ARE free to comment on the state, and what weakens our national morale as much as anything is when the state is seen to exercise excessive power over the freedom of the population.

    The President of Syria has worked very hard at creating an image of being a humble, quietly-spoken, Western-educated ex-ophthalmologist who's had power lavished upon him almost inadvertently. Well it's back to the drawing board for the Damascus spin-doctors now then!
  • by esocid (946821) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @09:53AM (#23402192) Journal
    Well shit, if that were a crime here about half the population, myself included, would be guilty.
    We're gonna fail! (Whatever you are thinking, just assume I mean that.)
  • prestige? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @10:00AM (#23402270) Homepage
    I was not aware that Syria had prestige.
  • With Lebanon falling apart next door (Google Hamas and Lebanon), may the Syrian government have valid reasons for a crack down? One wonders exactly what he wrote on these "opposition sites" to earn the wrath of the government.

    On the bright side, his sentence was commuted to only three years. He may survive that, depending on where the sentence is to be served.

    • Can there be "valid reasons" for a government to censor its citizens' speech? Certainly, undermining the prestige of the state doesn't seem even vaguely valid, as all it means is that you can be prosecuted for criticising the government. So, the people in power can reduce the chance of ever being out of power by simply making it illegal to want them to be out of power.

      "Only three years"? Hang on, have I been writing a serious response to a sarcastic post here?

  • by glgraca (105308) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @10:04AM (#23402324)
    At least they gave him a trial.

    People are being freed from Guantamo after 6 years without ever even having being charged with anything. Can you imagine the torture of not even knowing when you are going to get out?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Sobrique (543255)
      s/when/if/

      Seriously, for all the horrible stuff that happens in Syria, the chronically bad state of play that is Guantanamo, indefinite detention without trial, and torture is pretty disgusting too. One does not excuse the other, but at least Syria isn't _pretending_ to be an elightened beacon of democracy and humanity.

    • What is the difference between having a trial under an unfair and rights-infringing legal system, and no trial at all? The former gives the illusion of a democratic and fair process, legitimising what is really no better than illegal detention.

    • Does anyone else think that one of these days, it would be nice to read an article and discussion about some other country's issue without having to read a gratuitous slam about some aspect of the United States which gets modded up to +5 mostly because it is a gratuitous slam about the United States?
      • by MrMickS (568778) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @11:00AM (#23403268) Homepage Journal
        It may be a gratuitous slam on the United States but its a truthful one. The behaviour of the United Status regard Guantanamo has been a blight on its reputation, one that has soured its image across the world. Its a measure of how badly the image has been soured that its not possible to have a discussion of rights without the subject being raised. This might not be people's taste but its the reality of the situation.

        What is the answer? I guess that if you are holding yourselves up as being the defender of the free world and calling 'evil' to account you have to make sure that you don't commit evil yourselves.

        I realise that not all US citizens supported this state of affairs but enough of them voted to elect the George W Bush and again to re-elect him. Whilst you might not agree with the policies conducted they are being carried out in your name by your democratically elected government. As such you have to take the heat that goes with it. Fortunately you are free to protest against this and not be locked up.
        • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Wednesday May 14, 2008 @12:07PM (#23404418)

          It may be a gratuitous slam on the United States but its a truthful one. The behaviour of the United Status regard Guantanamo has been a blight on its reputation, one that has soured its image across the world.
          So the fact that it is truthful is a justification to bring it up in every discussion? It may be truthful, but it is completely, utterly, irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I highly doubt that Guantanamo has "soured" our image in any place which was not already anti-American. America has been a hated country for decades in most regions of the world. The blame that America is taking for virtually every problem in the world is nothing new. Let me know when a US citizen is placed in jail or killed for anything like a blog. In case you haven't noticed Bush is bashed every day on slashdot and even ACs have their IP logged so if Bush had the power and desire to take them down he certainly could. So the comparison is disingenuous.
          • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

            by AK Marc (707885)
            So the fact that it is truthful is a justification to bring it up in every discussion? It may be truthful, but it is completely, utterly, irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

            The topic at hand is outrage over an unfair sentence. Gitmo is about outrage over the lack of a sentence, or even charges. Someone sitting in America condemning Syria should think of Gitmo before doing it. The post is an on-topic reminder that in Syria, you at least get a trial and a sentence. That's better than the US. That's d
          • Let me know when a US citizen is placed in jail or killed for anything like a blog.

            The MPAA was granted an injunction against 2600 magazine over a link to DeCSS. Failure to remove the link would have resulted in contempt of court charges that would have led to fines and/or jail time. Censorship absolutely occurs in the US it is just for different reasons that Syria.
        • What is the answer? I guess that if you are holding yourselves up as being the defender of the free world and calling 'evil' to account you have to make sure that you don't commit evil yourselves.

          I guess I should've noted that I'm Canadian, not American, so the "you" is misplaced. I'd also like to know if there is any country, anywhere, that holds up to this "you must do no evil before you can criticize others" standard, because it seems to me on the one hand impossibly high, and on the other a disingenuous way to brush aside any relevant criticism. The United States may have its faults, but I'll still opt for it to lead the free world over any other country out there, and in most respects there'

    • by shma (863063)
      I doubt it's worse than the other forms of torture practised there.

      Still, simply because the US has done worse doesn't mean that Syria should be excused for this kind of action.

      By the way, does anyone know what he said that got him imprisoned? It would be a small, but significant, act of justice to see it reprinted here.
    • by khallow (566160)
      I think the US has been too liberal in labeling Guantamo prisoners with the label, "enemy combatant", but being an enemy combatant is a case where one can be held within the confines of US (and as far as it exists, international law) without being charged with anything. It's not after all illegal merely to be at war with the US, but capturing and holding indefinitely enemy soldiers is a valid exercise of national interests.
      • Stop being truthful. Just hate Bush and the US and Guitmo like everyone else. Ignore that the people there (a vast majority anyways) were actively fighting against the US. There's no fun in that.

        What the US should have done is released them right away so they could recapture them over and over

        OK, sarcasm aside. I'm not a big fan of everything the US has done. But some very "liberal" people are blinded by Iraq. Iraq was the worlds embarassment. The world should never have let Saddam stay in power there
  • As bad as we all think things are getting in the free world, it's things like this that remind me it could be a helluva lot worse.
    • However ridiculous the charges were, this guy had a trial, and could semi-sucessfully apeal, so yes, it's great to live in a country where anyone can be labelled "ennemy of the state" and be scretly detained without trial.
  • If a single blogger can "undermine the prestige of a state and weaken a national morale", that he or she should be sentenced by death, as he's too much power in that country.
    Or maybe the case that that state has already a very low prestige and a very weak national morale that a single blogger can blow it away!
  • to read about people with this sort of courage.
  • I was always interested in syrian politics. I've been there last year.

    I have walked (yes, by foot) from Damas to Alep and it's really a beautiful and welcoming country. Their sense of hospitality is the best I've come across so far. I walked hundreds of kilometers across the country without being controlled, in fact, I didn't even see the army and hardly the Police. I was expecting much more military presense in a state that is supposed to be so much controled.

    Also, I had great long conversations with a lot

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