During a decade in power, Syrian President Bashar Assad has not delivered on promises of greater freedoms or rights for his people, Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
Assad "has not delivered on his promises to increase public freedoms and improve his government's human rights record during a decade in power," HRW said in a report on the eve of the anniversary of his accession.
"Whether President Assad wanted to be a reformer but was hampered by an entrenched old guard or has been just another Arab ruler unwilling to listen to criticism, the outcome for Syria's people is the same: No freedom, no rights," HRW's Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement.
The report noted that in his July 17, 2000, inaugural speech, Assad had spoken of the need for creative thinking, transparency and democracy.
"However, the period of tolerance that followed Assad's ascent to power was short-lived, and Syria's prisons quickly filled again with political prisoners, journalists and human rights activists," the report said.
"Syria's security agencies, the feared mukhabarat, detain people without arrest warrants and torture with complete impunity," said the report, entitled "A Wasted Decade: Human Rights in Syria during Bashar Assad's First Ten Years in Power."
'Kurds denied basic rights'
It said that two years after prison authorities and military police had used firearms to quell a riot at the Saya prison outside Damascus in July 2008, "Syrian authorities have not revealed the fate of at least 42 detainees, at least nine of whom are believed to have been killed."
"Censorship is prevalent and extends to popular websites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Blogger," the report by the New York-based organization added.
It noted that rights violations included repression of Syria's large Kurdish minority.
"The Kurdish minority, estimated to be 10% of the population, is denied basic group rights, including the right to learn Kurdish in schools or celebrate Kurdish festivals, such as Nowruz (Kurdish New Year)."
The report said an estimated 300,000 stateless Kurds are waiting for citizenship, despite repeated promises by Assad.
"Whatever hopes Syrians might have had for a new era of political openness under Assad's rule have been dashed," said Whitson.
He "has no excuse to continue to stall on needed reforms to his country's human rights record," she added, noting that US and European officials had been reaching out to Syria and had held regular meetings with the Syrian president.
"Now that he has emerged from his internationally imposed isolation, he should open up his country."
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