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Syrians face 15 years in prison for criticizing the government online

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Syria has updated its existing cybercrime law to punish citizens with 15 years imprisonment for more minor criticism of the government, led by Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian state-run news outlet, the Syrian Arab News Agency, reported that the Syrian legislature reorganized the existing cybercrime law passed in 2012. Now, the “penalties and punishment on the cybercrime ranges between imprisonment of up to 15 years and penalties of up to SYP 15 million ($12,000),” the outlet reported, via Middle East Monitor.

In Syria, calling for changes to the government or constitution is already a crime. Under the new law, those found guilty of calling for changes will be imprisoned for 7 to 15 years. Those charged with spreading “fake news” that “prejudices national unity” or “undermines the prestige of the state” will be imprisoned for 3 to 5 years.

The government also recently announced that those found guilty of spreading “disinformation” will be punished with a six-month prison sentence.

Rights groups have warned that the updated legislation will make it easier for the government to monitor and crackdown on minor forms of dissent, and people will continue to disappear. According to the Middle East Monitor, hundreds of thousands of citizens have been disappeared by the government over the past decade. It is feared they are executed or tortured to death.

While there is a fine as an option to prison time, not many Syrians can afford it. The average monthly salary of a government employee is $23, meaning it would take over 40 years to get enough money to pay the fine.

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