- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) — The State Department on Thursday censured Syria for arresting a journalist who had allegedly violated the country's restrictions on the press.

Ibrahim Hamidi, the Damascus bureau chief of the London-based pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper, reported last week that Syria expected a large influx refugees from Iraq if Washington launches its anticipated military offensive against Baghdad.

The report said that Damascus had made arrangements to accommodate up to 1 million refugees along its border with Iraq.

In Syria, journalists are not allowed to report on defense related activities without clearance from the government.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Hamidi's arrest accentuates the lack of freedom of press and basic civil liberties in Syria.

"We look to Syria, which is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and a member of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, to respect the rights of citizens to freedom of the press, speech and assembly and due process," he said.

Syria's official news agency reported the arrest last Friday and said Hamidi was being questioned about the alleged violation of Syrian publication laws.

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