Prisoner amnesties decreed by the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, during the country’s 10-year war have freed less than 6% of detainees, with an estimated 136,000 people remaining in state prisons, a report has revealed.
The amnesties, which were hailed as acts of benevolence by officials and Assad, have put barely a dent in the huge numbers still held in the regime’s infamous prison systems, some for years after their sentences had expired.
According to the report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), many of the detainees were arrested without legal justification, often for taking part in anti-government protests in the early months and years of the uprising against Assad’s regime.
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The report, which has taken almost a year to prepare, suggests 7,531 people subject to arbitrary arrest have been released, while 136,000 remain forcibly detained, many without access to family or lawyers.
The releases have taken place over 21 amnesties, personally approved by Assad and billed as a means of reconciliation between the opposition and the regime, which took a hardline stance against protests inspired by the regional uprisings that came to be known as the Arab spring.
But rather than being acts of good faith, the amnesties were instead seen as small mercies doled out against the backdrop of one of the biggest and cruellest detention systems in the world.
“Since the very first moment of his or her arrest, the detainee is subjected to torture and denied any chance of contacting their family or lawyer,” the report, titled Breaking Down the Amnesty Decrees, says.
“In the overwhelming majority of cases, Syrian authorities deny having arrested the detainee, who goes on to be classified as a forcibly disappeared person.
“Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fallen victim to the Syrian regime’s arrest machine, with their cases devoid of any clear charges or evidence. They have been arrested for political reasons, grounded in the Syrian regime’s battle to survive without making any meaningful political changes. (These) are unlawful, arbitrary arrests that violate international human rights law, as well as the Syrian constitution and domestic laws.”
This article was 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.