Syria, with a population of approximately 21 million, is a republic under the authoritarian regime of President Bashar al-Asad. The president makes key decisions with counsel from a small circle of security advisors, ministers, and senior members of the ruling Ba'ath (Arab Socialist Renaissance) Party. The constitution mandates the primacy of Ba'ath Party leaders in state institutions and society. President Asad and party leaders dominate all three branches of government. In 2007 Asad was confirmed president for his second seven-year term in a "yes or no" referendum that was neither free nor fair in the eyes of local and international human rights advocates. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
The government systematically repressed citizens' ability to change their government. The security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, caused politically motivated disappearances, and tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees with impunity. Security forces arrested and detained individuals under poor conditions without due process. Lengthy pretrial and incommunicado detention remained a serious problem. The judiciary was not independent. There were political prisoners and detainees, and during the year the government sentenced to prison several high-profile members of the human rights and civil society communities. The government violated citizens' privacy rights. The government imposed severe restrictions on civil liberties: freedoms of speech and press, including Internet and academic freedom; freedoms of assembly and of association, including severe restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); and freedoms of religion and movement. An atmosphere of corruption pervaded the government. Violence and societal discrimination against women continued, as did sexual exploitation, increasingly of Iraqi refugees, including minors. The government discriminated against minorities, particularly Kurds, and severely restricted workers' rights.