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Thousands of Syrians await release of detainee relatives after Assad issues amnesty decree

Syrian women stage a protest in demand of the release of detainees prisoned by Assad Regime in Idlib, Syria On 12 November 2021 [İzzettin Kasim/Anadolu Agency]
Syrian women stage a protest in demand of the release of detainees prisoned by Assad Regime in Idlib, Syria On 12 November 2021 [İzzettin Kasim/Anadolu Agency]

Thousands of Syrians have been waiting outside prisons in the country for the release of their relatives detained by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, following a general amnesty issued by Assad.

Since the decree was issued on Saturday – which granted "a general amnesty for terrorist crimes committed by Syrians" before 30 April, 2022, "except for those leading to the death of a person" – a few hundred detainees have reportedly been released, so far.

According to Syria's Justice Ministry, there are more who are set to be released, leading to thousands of Syrians and families gathering outside prisons in the capital, Damascus, and the notorious military prison in Sednaya.

The regime insists that those who have been freed – many of whom have spent around a decade in detention – are political prisoners and those found guilty on charges of "terrorism", which consists of anyone who expresses criticism of the regime, campaigns for human rights or is part of any opposition entity.

Photos of some who were released were published on social media sites such as Twitter, with many users commenting on the frailness of the former detainees and their traumatised gaze, likely caused by years of torture and trauma under detention. Many of them also reportedly suffer from memory loss, mental illness and loss of physical abilities.

Despite the decree being the most comprehensive out of many other amnesties issued by the regime, however, no prominent political detainees have been released so far, and most are still believed to have been tortured and killed by the regime.

Syria's Justice Minister, Ahmed El-Sayed described the amnesty to the state-run Al-Watan newspaper as a comprehensive national reconciliation, which not only covers detainees and those guilty of "terrorism" in Syria, but also similar Syrians abroad. He claimed that it will contribute to the potential return of thousands of refugees.

The Deputy Justice Minister, Nizar Sedkni, also stated in an interview with the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) that the amnesty would automatically include Syrians abroad, counting them as eligible.

Such guarantees of a safe and reconciliatory return were made in previous years but have always been contradicted by reports that regime security services target, detain, torture and often kill returnees.

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