Despite All the Amnesty Decrees, At Least 131,000 of Those Arrested in Connection with the Popular Uprising against the Syrian Regime Are Still Detained/ Disappeared
Press release (Link below to download full report):
Paris – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reveals in its report issued today that the Syrian regime has released 81 individuals under Amnesty Decree No. 13 of May 2021 and arrested at least 176 others since its issuance, noting that despite all the amnesty decrees, at least 131,000 of those arrested in connection with the popular uprising against the Syrian regime are still detained or disappeared.
The 19-page report provides a brief background on the nature of how general amnesties are granted according to the Syrian constitution, noting that this falls within the jurisdiction of the legislative authority, and adding that a general amnesty is granted to detainees whose cases nobody has investigated, unlike a special amnesty, thus legislators rarely issue a general amnesty. However, Bashar al Assad has issued at least 18 general amnesties, including a comprehensive amnesty and a partial amnesty for military crimes, since the beginning of the popular uprising for democracy in March 2011. This comprehensive amnesty led to the release of large numbers of dangerous criminals and extremists, some of whom were recruited into local militias. It’s noteworthy that none of these decrees have included political prisoners from among the countless opponents of the Syrian regime jailed for dissent, except in very rare cases when a very few are released in order to give some credibility to these bogus and deceptive decrees.
The report notes that Bashar al Assad issued the latest Amnesty Decree No. 13 of 2021 on May 2, prior to the ‘presidential elections’ on May 26, leading to believe that through offering this earlier amnesty, Bashar al Assad wanted to appear magnanimous as though he were offering something to Syrian society, in light of his abject and complete failure throughout the years of his rule, especially since 2011.
The report summarizes the cases and incidents of arrest and releases documented by the SNHR team in the period since Decree No. 13 was issued on May 2, 2021, up to July 15, 2021. The report distinguishes between the record of releases that took place related to the amnesty and those not related to it, which were within the context of the expiration of sentences. The report notes that SNHR has endeavored, as much as possible, to verify the charges against those released since this decree was issued, adding that the release cases included in the report are only for those detainees whose ‘crimes’ are of a political nature, with the report excluding cases involving the release of criminal detainees accused of theft, counterfeiting and similar criminal felonies. The record of releases included in this report also does not include those detainees who were released as part of the reconciliation agreements conducted by the Syrian regime in the governorates of Damascus Suburbs and Daraa.
The report is also based on direct and preliminary communication with a large number of families, as well as interviews with a number of former detainees who had been released. In addition, the report relies on the information obtained from detainees still being held in civilian prisons in the Syrian governorates, in particular the Hama Central Prison, Homs Central Prison, Adra Central Prison, and Suwayda Central Prison, as well as from their lawyers and families. In this context, the report provides seven of the testimonies.
The report discusses the networks of interests established by the Syrian regime with the aim of generating illicit income and of extortion at the expense of the already suffering victims of its detention and forcible disappearance and their desperately worried families, with these networks consisting of officers, judges, lawyers, security personnel, local militias, and middlemen, and having links with the security branches, as well as the irregular Military Field Court and irregular Counter-Terrorism Court. The report notes that these networks are highly active after or prior to the issuance of each amnesty decree. The report refers to at least 92 cases involving extortion of the families of detainees held in central prisons by these exploitation networks, with these relatives paying vast sums of money in exchange for promises to include their detained family members in amnesty decree and to issue release decisions for them. The report estimates the real number of financial extortions that have taken place since the issuance of Amnesty Decree No. 13 to be at least ten times greater than the number that it was able to document. The report adds that in most cases, the families did not receive any information, manage to secure visitation rights or achieve any of the other objectives related to their detained family members, for which they paid these charlatans massive sums. Adding insult to injury, all these activities are taking place in the complete absence of a properly functioning judicial authority, due to the Syrian regime’s practices in monopolizing control of the existing judicial authority and emptying it of its proper role, thereby creating this state of corruption, chaos and suffering.
The report includes a comment on Legislative Decree No. 13 of 2021, which provides for a general amnesty for perpetrators of misdemeanors, contraventions, and felonies committed before the date it was issued. The report notes that the decree included a broad reprieve applying to a wide range of misdemeanors and felonies, with the amnesty including the full punishment for misdemeanors and contraventions, measures of reforms and pardons for juveniles, and for those who evaded military service domestically or fled abroad to escape it, for some temporary criminal penalties, crimes by juveniles and other offences. The report also analyzes the articles related to prisoners of conscience and how these reflect on their legal status, and on monitoring their implementation by the courts in which these detainees were tried, pointing out that these crimes are usually included by the Syrian regime in most of the amnesty decrees issued by it, as well as being routinely and automatically used against the vast majority of detainees in its custody from the moment of their arrest, in addition to charging them other crimes with more severe penalties that are not included in the amnesty decrees; this is, as the report states, one of the main reasons behind the regime’s failure to release detainees held in connection with their involvement in the popular uprising under the amnesty decrees, as the Syrian regime uses an arsenal of charges against each detainee all at once, so if the amnesty stipulates some of these, it does not include the others, demonstrating the deceptive and misleading nature of the regime’s amnesty decrees whose primary objective is to secure the release of actual criminals while detaining those who are subject to trial until the end of their sentences.
The report documents the release of at least 81 individuals, among whom were 17 women, including civilians, media workers, state employees, lawyers, and university students, under Legislative Decree No. 13 of 2021, since its issuance on May 2, 2021 until July 15, 2021. The duration of the detention period for most of those released ranged between two to six months. Most of those released were charged with weakening national sentiment and transmitting news that would weaken the psyche of the nation.
As the report reveals, Syrian regime forces have continued their persecution and targeting of Syrian citizens in regime-controlled areas in connection with their political dissent and expression of opinions, despite the right to both being guaranteed by the Syrian constitution and international law. In this context, the report stresses that the number of people arrested by the Syrian regime is far greater than the number of those it released, whether under Amnesty Decree 13 of 2021 or due to the expiry of their sentence, or of both groups combined. The report documents at least 176 arrests by Syrian regime forces, with those detained including five children and two women, since the issuance of Amnesty Decree No. 13 on May 2, 2021, up until July 15, 2021. The report also documents the release of at least 63 detainees, including two children and one woman, during the same period, who were released from the Syrian regime forces’ detention centers, with their release coinciding with the period after the amnesty decree was issued, although they were not released as a result of it, but after the end of their sentences, which the report considers to have been arbitrary. As the report reveals, the former detainees spent an average period of one to nine years in the Syrian regime’s detention centers, in extremely poor conditions which included being subjected to torture, and enduring an almost complete lack of healthcare and medical care, as well as severe overcrowding, while all had been arrested without receiving any explanation of the reasons for their detention and without any arrest warrants being provided.
The report stresses that the Syrian regime forced detainees to confess to acts they did not commit, trying them on the basis of these false coerced confessions, and then issuing a partial amnesty for them; this manufactured cycle aims to blackmail detainees and their families and to increase their suffering, and constitutes a violation of the most basic principles of human rights.
The report explains that Decree No. 13 of 2021 did not include political detainees or those detained in connection with their expression of opinion, or activists in the popular uprising, while including provisions of the charges that were automatically brought against the vast majority of detainees, which are included in every amnesty decree; therefore, although these charges included the detainees in previous decrees, they were not released due to the presence of other charges over which they are being tried; this is an intentional policy by the Syrian regime to mislead public opinion.
The report notes that there is a lack of any clear mechanism for the methods used in selecting and releasing detainees included in the amnesty, as well as a failure to include detainees held, often for years, in security branches and unofficial detention centers, without being charged or subjected to any trial.
The report further adds that the amnesty decree is, essentially, a tool providing a new opportunity for the security services to extort more money at the expense of the suffering of the detainees’ families.
The report calls on the United Nations and the international community not be deceived by the tricks and ruses of the Syrian regime, to continue to put constant pressure on it to release political and human rights activists, protesters, and all peaceful, democratic opponents and dissidents, to do everything possible, starting from imposing sanctions to invoking a threat of military action to allow international organizations access to the Syrian regime’s detention centers, to reveal the torture methods detainees are subjected to, and to make every possible effort to secure their release, as well as providing a number of other recommendations.