An estimated 74 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni Muslim, which is ethnically varied within itself. Imprecise estimates of its Christian population oscillate between 5 and 10%, which decreased drastically after the civil war. Under the Assad regime, Syria is officially secular, but Syrian codification of religion is layered with contradictions. While the Assad regime purports to be secular, the current constitution designates Islam as the state religion, and de facto blasphemy laws are in force. The current status of their enforcement and importance remains largely unclear, since the country has been wracked with extreme and persistent violence for much of the last decade, including the insurgency of ISIS, who, before their defeat, were responsible for multiple executions of accused blasphemers and "apostates."

History of Blasphemy & Apostasy Laws

Islam arrived in the lands that today encompass Syria with the Muslim conquest of the Levant between 634 to 640 CE. From then on, political control passed through the hands of various dynasties, sultanates, and empires, usually Islamic, until the Ottomans conquered the region in the sixteenth century. Under Ottoman rule, Syrians' personal status was adjudicated in courts according to an individual's religion, where each religious community would be governed by its own customs in this realm, though they would still follow Ottoman criminal and civil statutes; this division of the judiciary still exists in Syria's official court structure, such as it is.

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, Syria underwent a period of French colonization and occupation. Relations between the French and the locals were never particularly warm, and the period did not last long. In 1946, Syria achieved its independence as an individual republic. In the succeeding decades, the situation of political control would remain tumultuous and in flux, but a continuity existed through the chaos: Syria's status as an essentially Islamic entity.

Syria’s legal tradition is influenced by the Ottoman penal code and its reinterpretation under the French mandate. In the penal code of 1949, the “disturbance during the performance of a religious ritual,” the destruction of a “building dedicated to worship, a slogan, or anything else that is venerated by the members of a religion or a group of people,” and, most importantly, publicly "disparag[ing] ... religious rituals that are practiced publicly" can result in imprisonment. The conversion of Muslims to another religion and “causing tension between religious communities” is also prohibited.

The constitution of the new state, enacted in 1950, would be replaced and supplanted many times; however, the core provisions mandating the president be Muslim and Islamic law the main source of legislation were present here, and these remain prominent provisions of the current constitution, passed after a referendum. Under the 2012 constitution, freedom of religion is guaranteed under Article 3 and Article 33. Article 3, however, at once ensures “respect for all religions” while demanding that the President must be Muslim and that the majority of laws will based on Islam.

In recent years, Syria has been one of the worst hotbeds of political and sectarian violence on the planet, meaning its residents could not and often still cannot rely on the enforcement of the laws and statutes of the internationally-recognized government. Particularly in the mid-2010s, the ISIS insurgency created an exponentially more dangerous environment for anyone accused of blasphemy or apostasy, and several executions for purported instances of such "crimes" occurred in ISIS-controlled territory.

Cases of Persecution in Syria
ISIS executes two men for "apostasy"
ISIS beheads four men for blasphemy
ISIS executes man for blasphemy in northern Syria
Editor Laila Safadi and journalist Shawkat Gharz al-Din sentenced for blasphemy
15-year-old Mohammad Qataa executed by Islamist rebels for alleged atheistic statements
Leena al-Qasem executed by own son after ISIS apostasy trial