Red Lines In Syria.
Blogging in Syria is difficult beyond our comprehension in the West, as the New York Times reports:
“Most of the Syrian media is still owned by the state. Privately owned media outlets became legal in 2001, as the socialist economy slowly began to liberalize following the accession of President Bashar al-Assad. But much of the sector is owned by members of the Syrian “oligarchy” — relatives of Mr. Assad and other top government officials. All of it is subject to intimidation and heavy-handed control.
“The first level is censorship,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, the founder of All4Syria.info, the independent Web site where Mr. Ekhetyar works. “The second level is when they send you statements and force you to publish them.” Like many other journalists and dissidents, Mr. Abdel Nour has left the country and now lives abroad.
The basic “red lines” are well known: no criticism of the president and his family or the security services, no touching delicate issues like Syria’s Kurdish minority or the Alawites, a religious minority to which Mr. Assad belongs. Foreign journalists who violate these rules are regularly banned from the country (a fact that constrains coverage of Syria in this and other newspapers).
But the exact extent of what is forbidden is left deliberately unclear, and that vagueness encourages fear and self-censorship, many journalists here say. A 19-year-old female high school student and blogger, Tal al-Mallohi, was arrested late last year and remains in prison. Her blog had encouraged the Syrian government to do more for the Palestinians, but it scarcely amounted to real criticism, and the authorities have not given any reason for her detention. A number of bloggers have been arrested for expressing views deemed critical of the Syrian government or even other Arab governments, under longstanding laws that criminalize “weakening national sentiment” and other broadly defined offenses.
Others have been jailed for jokes. One blogger, Osama Kario, wrote a parody in 2007 of the famous “three Arab No’s” refusing any concession to Israel (no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel). His version: “No electricity, no water, no Internet.” He was jailed for 28 days, and when he emerged he stopped blogging and would not speak to fellow journalists about his experience.”