Syrian authorities have freed 60 detainees, including some held in regime prisons for over a decade, in a presidential amnesty which covers terror-related convictions, a war monitor said Monday.
“About 60 detainees have been released since Sunday, from various Syrian regions, some of whom have spent at least 10 years” in regime prisons notorious for killings and torture, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
President Bashar al-Assad has issued several amnesty decrees during the country’s 11-year war, which broke out after the regime cracked down on mostly peaceful protesters.
But human rights activists said the new decree issued on Saturday is the most comprehensive in relation to terrorism charges.
The new decree calls for “granting a general amnesty for terrorist crimes committed by Syrians” before April 30, 2022, “except for those leading to the death of a person”.
This would mean that tens of thousands of detainees could be released, according to Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory.
Many are accused of terrorism offences, “a loose label used to convict those who are arbitrarily arrested”, he said.
Syrian activists shared a list of 20 released detainees on social media, including people who wasted for years in the notorious Sednaya prison.
“This is the first time in years that prisoners walk free from Sednaya prison,” Mohammad Al Abdallah, who heads the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, told AFP.
Amnesty International has described Sednaya as a “human slaughterhouse”, where authorities killed an estimated 13,000 people by hanging in four years.
Abdallah said, however, that the amnesty would have likely excluded human rights activists, who are not charged with terrorism-related crimes.
“Most detainees (in Sednaya) had been referred to a terrorism court,” he said.
Lawyer Noura Ghazi said the new amnesty was “the widest since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, as it includes all terror crimes except those that caused death”.
She heads “No Photo Zone”, a group providing legal assistance to the families of detainees and missing persons.
Ghazi expects many more to be released. “But this will take time,” she said.
Abdallah agreed. “We just have to wait and see how broad the amnesty will really be,” he said, adding that families of the detainees should not be left with “rumors and false promises”.
According to Ghazi, the Syrian regime issued the decree at a “provocative time because it appears to be a reaction to (reporting about) the Al-Tadamon massacre”.
Reports published in The Guardian and New Lines Magazine last week revealed that regime forces allegedly killed dozens of people in the Damascus suburb of Al-Tadamon in 2013.
The Guardian report included footage of a Syrian soldier appearing to order blindfolded civilians with their hands tied to run.
As soon as they bolted, soldiers appeared to riddle their bodies with bullets and they fell into a pit. Forty-one men were killed and their bodies were later set on fire.
Damascus did not comment on the reports.
Half a million people have been detained in regime prisons since the start of the war, with about 100,000 dying either under torture or due to poor detention conditions, the Observatory said.
Activists also accuse the regime of torturing detainees to death, of rape, sexual assaults and extrajudicial executions.
The latest decree applies to offences including “working with terrorist groups, financing or training terrorism, manufacturing means of terrorism or disturbing security,” Syrian justice ministry official Nizar Sadqani the state-run SANA news agency.