Nearly 665 Cases of Arbitrary Arrests, 116 Deaths Due to Torture, and 232 Releases Since the Previous Amnesty Decree Was Issued in September 2019
The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its latest report released today that at the Syrian regime’s current rate, it would take the regime 325 years to release 130,000 detainees, according to the amnesty decrees issued by it even if it ended all new arrests, noting the documentation of nearly 665 cases of arbitrary arrests, 116 deaths due to torture, and 232 releases since the previous amnesty decree was issued in September 2019.
The nine-page report briefly outlines the reality of arrests and releases since the Legislative Decree of Amnesty No. 20 issued on September 15, 2019, with the report issued following the publication of a new Legislative Decree of Amnesty No. 6 on March 22, 2020. The report proves these decrees’ ineffectiveness, noting that the Syrian regime limits their application solely to the individuals and groups that it wishes to pardon, who are predominantly criminal offenders, and perpetrators of misdemeanors and offenses, while not including any dissidents, political prisoners and activists in the popular uprising or those arrested in connection with it.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The Syrian regime aims, through its new amnesty decree, to circumvent the pressures it faces from organizations and countries that fear the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic among the tens of thousands of prisoners it is currently detaining. By this action, it hopes to alleviate the pressure on it and to focus on details and on inadequate executive measures that ultimately lead to the release of a very limited number; at the current pace, hundreds of years would be needed to release all the detainees. Even the Iranian regime, despite its brutality, has been more respectful to the Iranian people on this issue than the Syrian regime has been to Syrian citizens, releasing thousands of detainees all at once. There is hardly a regime that despises the citizens it rules over as much as the Syrian regime does.”
The report notes that the Syrian regime has issued 17 amnesty decrees since 2011 and affirms that the exceptions included in the amnesty decrees are very extensive and diverse, thereby nullifying these decrees of any real effectiveness, making them partial and very limited instruments that apply only to very special cases, namely those favored by the Syrian regime who it wishes to release, and possibly extending to include the release of a small number of other detainees not exceeding a couple of dozen in total in order to give some appearance of credibility. Meanwhile, all human rights activists, politicians, media workers, relief activists and demonstrators, and similar prisoners of conscience detained for demanding a process of democratic political change, have been charged by the Syrian regime with several cumulative offences, with the vast majority of these detainees accused of terrorism; the report includes details involving the Counter-Terrorism Court established by the Syrian regime in 2012, which try civilians, military personnel and juveniles, and issue sentences in absentia. Although the body’s official name is the Counter-Terrorism Court, it tries all the crimes referred to it by the Public Prosecution, with the Public Prosecution relying for these referrals on the detention reports provided by the security branches, in which testimony is taken from detainees under coercion and torture.
In this context, despite the seventeen amnesty decrees issued by the Syrian regime since May 2011 to date, there are still about 130,000 Syrian detainees in its detention centers.
The report notes that the heads of some regime security branches do not respond even to the amnesty decrees that have been issued, which is why, even if the amnesty decree include a number of detainees, the implementation of this decree on the ground rests solely in the hands of the heads of the security branches, whom the Ministry of Justice has no authority to pressure.
The report makes clear that since the previous Legislative Amnesty Decree No. 20 was issued on September 15, 2019, the Syrian regime has never stopped carrying out arbitrary arrests, noting that at least 665 cases of arbitrary arrest carried out by Syrian Regime forces have been documented, along with the documentation of the deaths of 116 individuals due to torture in the Syrian regime’s detention centers between September 15, 2019 and March 22, 2020, the date of the new amnesty decree’s publication, further noting that during the same time period, 232 cases of detainees being released have been documented, including 14 women.
In terms of figures, the report notes that by subtracting the number of detainees and the number of those released during the same time period, we find that the Syrian regime has increased the total number of detainees in its custody by around 430 new cases, meaning that, as the report states, the amnesty decrees are all meaningless, with the regime continuing to practice with its customary policy terrorizing and threatening society with widespread and illegal operations of arrest, and transferring detainees for torture and enforced disappearance.
As the report further reveals, if we were to imagine that the Syrian regime had stopped arbitrarily arresting Syrian citizens, and began releasing detainees in accordance with the amnesty decrees issued by it to date at a rate of 230 cases every six months, i.e. at a rate of approximately 400 cases per year, and the Syrian regime still has approximately 130,000 Syrian citizens to date, we find that the Syrian regime would need 325 years to release the detainees now in its custody.
The report attributes the publication of the new partial amnesty decree to the Syrian regime coming under pressure from international organizations as well as from other countries’ governments to release numbers of detainees after the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in light of the catastrophic dangers threatening detainees due to the inhuman conditions of detention they are exposed to. Meanwhile, the report stresses that the Syrian regime is in a state of constant absolute denial, and does not care if it inflicts further horrific suffering and kills thousands more Syrians, having already displaced half of the Syrian population and caused the death of nearly a quarter of a million citizens. The report also notes that despite the pandemic spreading widely in Iran, the Syrian regime remains dependent on Iranian regime troops and militias and has continued to import them from Iran via planes and through land crossings for the past month, despite the widespread spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report urges the United Nations and the international community not to be deceived by the tricks of the Syrian regime, to continue to put constant pressure on it to release political and human rights activists, demonstrators, and all peaceful, democratic opponents, dissidents and prisoners of conscience, and to take responsibility in the event of the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic among tens of thousands of Syrian detainees and the risk of this being fully transferred to Syrian society, especially given the continuation of air flights and the movement of Iranian militias from virus-stricken Iran to Syria.
The report also recommends that the United Nations and the international community should do everything possible to help avert disaster, from imposing sanctions to invoking a threat of military action, to allow international organizations access to the Syrian regime’s detention centers and to ensure that the fate of tens of thousands of detainees is revealed.
The report also presents a set of recommendations to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI), the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as to the Syrian regime.