Syrians have grown accustomed to the cyclical amnesty decrees issued by President Bashar al-Assad, typically coinciding with international legal developments that implicate the regime in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the use of chemical weapons. These decrees often emerge in response to mounting pressure and legal actions from Western nations, reminiscent of the extensive record of atrocities committed against the Syrian population. Despite these legal challenges, attempts to rehabilitate or normalize relations with the regime are consistently thwarted.
Under significant legal scrutiny, Bashar al-Assad seeks to play a “not guilty” card within the international community, donning the garb of repentance for his sins and crimes. His latest move along this trajectory involves the issuance of a meager amnesty decree riddled with loopholes. Critically, this decree deliberately overlooks the plight of tens of thousands who have been forcibly disappeared in his prisons, casting a shadow over the sincerity of his purported repentance.
Amnesty decree: Who is included and who is excluded?
The decree stipulates amnesty for the complete penalty for misdemeanours and offences, as well as all corrective and care measures for juveniles. Additionally, it grants full life or temporary penalty amnesty for individuals with an incurable terminal illness, those sentenced to a final judgment and those aged seventy or above at the decree’s issuance. Moreover, the amnesty covers the crime of kidnapping if the perpetrator voluntarily releases the kidnapped person safely or hands them over to a competent authority within ten days of the decree.
Furthermore, the decree extends amnesty for crimes of internal and external flight, with surrender deadlines set at three months for internal flight and six months for external flight. It commutes the death penalty to life imprisonment, reduces life sentences to 20 years imprisonment, pardons one-third of temporary criminal penalties, one-third of penalties for juvenile crimes, and halves penalties for misdemeanours outlined in Article 134 of the Military Penal Code (Legislative Decree No. 61 of 1950 and its amendments). Mitigating provisions apply to felonies causing personal harm unless the injured party waives their personal right.
Exclusions from the amnesty include the crimes of carrying weapons in the enemy ranks against Syria, smuggling and trafficking weapons, offences related to the Building Control Law, intentionally setting fire to forests, and crimes under the Consumer Protection Law. Crimes resulting in human death are also exempted, and the pardon does not affect personal lawsuits, which remain under the jurisdiction of the relevant court overseeing public rights lawsuits.
The decree specifies that individuals in hiding and fugitives from justice in felonies partially covered by its provisions won’t benefit from amnesty unless they surrender within six months of its issuance to competent authorities.
However, the decree does not encompass prisoners of conscience, the popular movement, or disappeared military personnel. Nour al-Khatib, director of the detainees and forcibly disappeared section at the Syrian Network for Human Rights, noted that the amnesty decree prompted inquiries from families of the disappeared, highlighting a recurring cycle of hope and disappointment. Khatib emphasized that the decree addresses only two articles related to freedom of opinion and expression, typically common charges against detainees. These articles pertain to crimes against state security (Articles 285 and 286 of the General Penal Code), as amended by Decree No. 15 of 2022. Law No. 15 specifies penalties for disseminating false or exaggerated news detrimental to the state’s prestige or status, along with punishments for improving the image of a hostile state or compromising Syrian territory.
Why do regime amnesty decrees exclude political detainees?
Khatib further commented, stating, “Considering these two crimes, we anticipate a very limited number benefiting from the decree since they typically accompany additional charges not covered by the decree. In essence, the amnesty decree predominantly focuses on granting full pardons for offences like kidnapping, drug possession, and internal and external flight. However, it notably excludes individuals detained or forcibly disappeared due to their association with popular opinion or movement.”
Legal Overview of the Decree
Khaled Shihab al-Din, the head of the Syrian Legal Association, asserted that the Syrian regime is attempting to deflect attention from any human rights concerns raised against it. He pointed out that Bashar al-Assad’s issuance of the amnesty decree coincided with the International Court of Justice’s directive for the regime to halt torture crimes in its prisons and preserve potential evidence related to “torture allegations,” including medical reports and death records. This directive came within the context of the case filed against Assad by the Netherlands and Canada.
In an interview with Syria TV, Shihab al-Din emphasized that the purported amnesty has no relevance to the International Court of Justice’s request to cease torture. Notably, the decree does not encompass detainees involved in the Syrian revolution.
He further highlighted that the decree excludes the provisions of Law No. 19 of 2012, which the regime associates with “crimes related to the Syrian revolution.” Consequently, individuals detained for their participation in the revolution will not be released.
Shihab al-Din explained that the decree addresses some conventional criminal offences, and he added that its objective seems to be providing expatriates wanted for compulsory service an opportunity to settle their financial obligations. He suggested that this move exploits vulnerable individuals while also capitalizing on foreign exchange rates and the value of the dollar.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.