(CNN) -- A prominent Syrian human rights lawyer has been released from prison, a move that comes amid demands by many restive citizens for more economic prosperity, political freedom and civil liberty.
Attorney Haitham Maleh -- arrested in October 2009 during a government crackdown on lawyers and activists -- has been freed, his son told CNN on Tuesday.
"I just talked to him on (the) phone and he was on his way home," Iyas Maleh said, confirming the release.
The release came as Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Monday issued pardons for prisoners, including some who are elderly and ill. Such pardons are made annually during this time of year, the anniversary of the Baathist party seizure of power in Syria.
The 80-year-old Maleh and other prisoners were not identified in the Syrian News Agency report announcing the pardons.
Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and writer of the Syria Comment blog, believes the Maleh release was prompted by a "widespread campaign of anger" by young people who oppose the government's authoritarian measures.
A lot of the discontent has emerged on social media.
Landis said the Syrian government has also made economic concessions, such as delaying the introduction of a value-added tax. Landis said the big question is whether energy subsidies will be lifted next month.
There have been demands by opposition leaders in Syria for political reform, and Al-Assad told The Wall Street Journal in January that he planned reforms that would allow local elections and included a new media law and more power for private organizations.
There has been longstanding anger over the arrests of bloggers.
"The government is clearly quite nervous here," Landis told CNN. "The internet and Twitter crowd have been putting a lot of pressure on the government."
As for Maleh, who has also served as a judge, he had been targeted for his human rights work for decades, according to a website devoted to his work.
He has been jailed before and placed under a travel ban by Syria, where opponents allege massive human rights abuses by the authoritarian government there.
A military court sentenced Maleh in July to a three-year prison term for "spreading false news that could weaken the national morale."
The detention has been sternly criticized by Amnesty International and countries such as the United States, Britain and France.
The mass street protests in the Middle East and North Africa haven't spread across Syria, even though there is an opposition movement and grass-roots ferment.
That's in part because the country is ethnically and religiously diverse and "concerted action" is tougher to take, Landis said.
Al-Assad claims he is close to his citizenry and is on their side, Landis said, unlike Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
"There's an element of truth to that," Landis explained. And people are also afraid to turn out in the streets.
One unplanned demonstration in February attracted about 1,500 people, who protested the roughing up of a Syrian by police, Landis said.
"Police were fired and action was taken," he said.
But there is concern in Syria that such a spontaneous outpouring could overwhelm security forces, prompting fears over something happening "that gets beyond the tipping point."
"It put some fear of God into the Syrian government," Landis said of the demonstration. He said there was another demonstration in front of the Libyan Embassy in support of the people there.
Landis said Syria isn't isolated from the modern world as it once had been because Al-Assad opened up access to more media outlets in recent years.
Young Syrians aren't opposed to Al-Assad's foreign policy, such as wresting back the Syrian region of Golan seized by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967, he said. That just isn't the top priority anymore.
"The first thing is to get rich," he said, "then Golan."
Young people in Syria today are part of the larger world and are making political and economic demands, he said.
"What you are seeing now are the beginnings of a youth culture trying to test the regime and test its own ability."
CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report