Head of government Muhammad Naji al-’Otri
Death penalty retentionist
Population 29.1 million
Life expectancy 74.1 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 2/16 per 1,000
Adult literacy 83.1 per cent
The government remained intolerant of dissent. Critics, human rights defenders, alleged opponents of the government and others were detained, often for prolonged periods; some were sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials. Torture and other illtreatment remained common, and were committed with impunity; there were several suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the circumstances in which prisoners were killed at Sednaya Military Prison in 2008 and, again, took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in previous years. Women faced legal and other discrimination and violence. The Kurdish minority remained subject to discrimination, and thousands of Syrian Kurds were effectively stateless. At least eight prisoners were executed.
Relations between Syria and Lebanon continued to improve, but there was a marked deterioration in relations with Iraq. There were renewed discussions towards an Association Agreement with the European Union.
In November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that it had not been able to investigate whether a facility destroyed by the Israeli air force in 2007 had been used for nuclear development purposes as the government had been unwilling to co-operate.
Repression of dissent
Syria remained under a national state of emergency in force continuously since 1963 and which, over many years, has been used to suppress and punish even peaceful dissent. This pattern continued throughout 2009. Political activists, human rights defenders, bloggers, Kurdish minority activists and others who criticized the government or exposed human rights violations were subject to arbitrary arrest and often prolonged detention or were sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials before the grossly deficient Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) or Military and Criminal Courts. They included prisoners of conscience. Others, including former detainees, were subject to travel bans.