Latest change to the penalty laws in Syria is issued on Tuesday September 6, 2011:
“Every rally or gathering procession on public roads or in a place that is accessible to the public is considered as riot gathering, and punishable by imprisonment from one month to a year and a fine of fifty thousand Syrian pounds.” (10-month salary for an elementary school teacher)
If you walk through downtown Damascus you will not notice any unfamiliar view. Sometimes you may notice some busses parked and some people sitting lazily in the buses or around them. You will notice the increased number of vendors who are sitting on the curbs selling small items.
To move from the familiar to the unfamiliar all what you need is to meet a friend there. If you shake hands with your friend and stand there chatting you will notice two or three vendors leave their position and come close to you. The longer you wait, the closer they get until you reach a moment where they will surround you and your friend and ask you to leave. If you hesitate long enough you will notice a group of people from the busses coming toward you with stakes in their hands. Usually the scene ends there unless you really are looking for a serious beating, arrest and/or possible death on the spot.
The tactics are similar with some divergence depending on the area and its sensitivity and on the availability of the security personnel. The vendors are all undercover security personnel. The bus people are the paramilitary death squads known as al-Shabbyhah. The goal is to stop any attempt of people to gather. Even with all this oppression, rallies have never stopped and are getting bigger and bigger everyday.