Syria went into civil war soon after the 2011 uprising. The war divided the country into several geographical areas controlled by different de facto ruling powers. The lack of rule of law and extremely unpredictable security situations make it difficult to document information or generalize conditions of freedom or application of laws. Many government-controlled areas are also divided into zones dominated by different militias, often sectarian in nature.

In areas of the country controlled by opposition forces, tribal authority, or terrorist groups, irregular courts and local authorities apply a variety of unofficial legal codes with diverse provisions relating to freedom of religion or belief.

The total population is estimated at 19.3 million. More than half of the country’s pre-war population was displaced. There are approximately 5.6 million refugees, as well as 6.6 million internally displaced people. Population displacement adds uncertainty to demographic analyses.

Syria has had a population with a complex composition both ethnically and religiously. It is estimated that 74% of the population is Sunni Muslim, which includes ethnic Arabs, Kurds, Circassians, Chechens, and some Turkomans. Other Muslim groups, including Alawites, Ismailis, and Shia, together constitute 13% of the population, while Druze constitute 3% and mostly live in Jabal al-Arab (Jabal al-Druze). Approximately 2.5% are Christians down from 10% pre-war. Christians adhere to many denominations and include ethnic Armenians. The Jewish Chronicle reported mid-2020 that there were no known Jews still living in Syria. A Yezidi population of approximately 80,000 lived in Syria before the civil war.

‘Blasphemy’ laws

The Syrian Penal Code:

Article 462:

Anyone who engages in one of the ways specified in Article 208 to disparage the religious rituals that are practiced publicly or who incites to showing contempt for these rituals shall be punished by imprisonment from 2 months to 2 years.

Article 208: Public venues are considered:

(1) Activities and movements if they occur in a public place or in an area available to the public, or an exhibition for viewing, or which are seen because a person who had nothing to do with them saw them by mistake. (2) Talking or shouting, whether publicly or transmitted mechanically, so that in both cases they are actually heard by those who have nothing to do with them. (3) Writing, drawings, paintings, photographs, films, symbols, and illustrations of various kinds if they are exhibited in a public place or in an area available to the public, or an exhibit for viewing, or if they are sold or displayed for sale or are distributed to one or more people.

According to a USCIRF report on blasphemy laws, no cases of blasphemy have been documented.