Assad targets rebels with new 'counter-terrorism' laws

Lowest penalty is five years in prison

DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued three new "counter-terrorism" laws on Monday, the official SANA news agency said, nearly 16 months into a deadly crackdown on an uprising against his rule.
"Those who create or direct terrorist groups may be sentenced with 10 to 20 years of hard labor, but the punishment may be more severe if the goal is to change the regime or the structure of the state," said the text of the laws passed on Thursday.
"If these (terrorist) acts result in death or disability for the victims, the death sentence may be imposed," it added.
Moreover, "the financing of terrorism, including any action to collect and directly or indirectly provide money, weapons, ammunition, explosives, communication equipment or intelligence to aid acts of terrorism are punishable by 15 to 20 years in prison."
The lowest penalty is five years in prison for acts that do not result in loss of life or property.
Another law says state employees convicted of "any act of terrorism -- whether he is directly engaged, an accessory to the crime, or providing material or moral support to terrorist groups in any way -- will be fired," SANA said.
This law also applies to former government employees, who risk losing their pensions if convicted.
A third law provides for jail terms of 10 to 20 years with hard labour and a fine for any kidnapping for ransom, the news agency said.
SANA said that during a debate on Thursday, members of parliament said the laws were "needed at this stage, given the negative impact of terrorism on the security of the country and its citizens."
Human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni said the new laws were not intended to establish security.
Instead, they were "another tool in the hands of the regime to defend itself and pursue its security solution," said the head of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research.
"The new laws contain broader definitions for acts of terrorism and stronger punishments than the former Penal Code," said Bunni, who has himself spent several years in prison.
"The government emphasises the idea of a conspiracy in the face of the revolution of a people who want democracy and liberty."
But by using more violence, the regime was "closing the door to any political solution," Bunni added.
Last month, Assad told government ministers Syria was in a "state of war" and ordered them to crush the uprising that broke out in March last year.
Syrian authorities refer to both rebel fighters and unarmed activists as "terrorists".