The Syrian Regime Succeeds in Relieving International Pressure on It to Release Tens of Thousands of Detainees Following the Outbreak of COVID-19 Through a Deceptive Amnesty Decree
The Syrian Network for Human Rights reveals in its report released today that the Syrian regime has released only 96 of the nearly 130,000 detainees held in its prisons in the two months since issuing its latest amnesty decree, and arrested 113 more. The report further notes that the Syrian regime succeeded in relieving international pressure on it to release tens of thousands of detainees following the outbreak of COVID-19, through a deliberately misleading amnesty decree.
The 12-page report provides a brief assessment of the regime’s Amnesty Decree No,6 of 2020, nearly two months after its issuance. As the report reveals, the Syrian regime saw this decree as a way to circumvent international pressures on it to reveal the fate of and release tens of thousands of detainees, with its real objective being to absorb and reduce this temporary international wave of pressure.
The report further notes that it has documented continuing arrests by the regime, which uses several pretexts, to detain anyone who contributed to the uprising for freedom, with the report warning that the next stage of arrests and torture will extend to even neutral individuals who the regime views as not having shown sufficiently fervent loyalty and support.
The report outlines the record of arrests, torture and releases documented since the issuance of Decree No. 6 on March 22, 2020, until May 15, 2020. The report notes that the charges against those who have been released since the issuance of this decree have been verified as much as possible, and adds that it includes only the cases in which those detainees whose ‘crimes’ are of a political nature have been released, and excludes cases involving the release of criminal detainees accused of theft, counterfeiting and similar criminal felonies.
The report is based on direct and preliminary communication with a large number of families, as well as with a number of detainees who have already been released. The report also relies on the information obtained from the detainees who are still being held in civilian prisons in the Syrian governorates, in particular the Hama Central Prison, the Homs Central Prison, and the Adra Central Prison, as well as from their lawyers and families.
The report notes that a total of 17 amnesty decrees has been issued by the Syrian regime since 2011 to date, emphasizing that these decrees are partial rather than general amnesty decrees, and include wide-ranging exemptions that largely empty them of their content or effectiveness. In addition to this, as the report reveals, the vast majority of detainees have been detained because of their contribution to the popular uprising and their demands for political change; the vast majority of individuals arrested for these and similarly innocuous actions are accused of ‘terrorism,’ and referred for trial to the Counter-Terrorism Court, which is actually far closer to being another branch of the state security services than any recognizable legal court.
The report further notes that the Syrian regime also achieves other goals through the amnesty decrees, the most important of which are pardoning those who deserted from military service, with these detainees being returned to the ranks of the Syrian regime’s forces after being pardoned due to the manpower shortages which the regime military is suffering from in its ranks. The Syrian regime also achieves, through the amnesty decrees, gaining some credibility for the regime by releasing some political prisoners.
The report states that issuing amnesty decrees constitutes a good opportunity for the Syrian regime’s mafia-style networks, which make a significant profit from offering information about detainees to their families and loved ones in exchange for money, with these networks aiming to achieve financial gains that will ultimately profit the security services. In addition to that, all those who are pardoned are still required to pay an often exorbitant fine, because, while, the pardon overturns the prison sentence, it does not overturn the financial penalty, and any goods confiscated or seized from the detainees by the regime are not returned.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, Chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, says:
“The Syrian regime forces detainees to confess to offences they did not commit, and issues sentences against them based on confessions taken under torture and terror, or based on political acts recognized by the constitution and human rights principles, such as: demanding political change and bringing down the government and its brutal security apparatus; then the regime issues an amnesty as a way of ‘proving’ that those demanding political change are convicts and criminals; in addition, the amnesty then includes only a few dozen of the more than 130,000 detainees in the regime’s prisons. This is the cynical system according to which the Syrian regime operates, and there is no solution to the issue of detainees and the forcibly disappeared persons in Syria except through achieving a political transition towards democracy according to a strict timetable.”
According to the report, the record of those released after the issuance of Decree No. 6 of 2020, since March 22, 2020, until May 15, 2020, reached at least 96 individuals, who were released from the Syrian regime’s detention centers, most of whom were released from Adra Central Prison. This record, the report notes, includes only those arrested in connection with their participation and activities in the popular uprising for democracy, or those who were randomly arrested or detained based on malicious security reports without any warrant, with the security branches undertaking investigations of them and extracting confessions under torture.
The report did not record any cases of release from the detention centers of the regime’s four security branches (Military Security, Air Security, Political Security, and State Security) either from their central headquarters in Damascus city or their branches across the governorates, with the report stressing that these branches possess the powers to disregard laws even in the cases of detainees to whom the provisions of the amnesty decree apply, and that the Ministry of Interior or Justice cannot compel the security services to do anything. The report adds that the authority of the security services is the highest of all the country’s official bodies and derives its power directly from the President of the Republic.
The report outlines the record of releases according to the courts where detainees were tried, with 61 releases being of individuals tried before the Counter-Terrorism Court, 18 releases of individuals tried before military courts, and 17 releases of individuals tried before the Military Field Court.
The report also distributes the record of releases according to the period of detention the detainees spent in custody, with the report recording the release of at least 62 individuals who spent at least five to eight years in detention, and at least 34 who spent less than five years in detention in the Syrian regime’s detention centers.
As for the distribution of the releases according to the governorates to which they belong, the report notes that the vast majority of those released came from the governorates of Daraa and Deir Ez-Zour.
The report stresses that arbitrary arrests carried out by Syrian Regime forces in the areas under their control haven’t ceased after the issuance of the recent Amnesty Decree No. 6 of 2020, in many cases targeting people who were granted a settlement certificate and a promise from the regime that they would not be harassed after settling their status.
In comparison with 96 releases, the report documents at least 113 arrests carried out by Syrian Regime forces since the issuance of Amnesty Decree No. 6 on March 22, 2020, until May 15, 2020.
According to the report, at least 30 individuals, including one woman, died due to torture and medical negligence in the Syrian regime’s detention centers during the same period.
The report stresses that Decree No. 6/2020 did not include activists or political detainees and those detained in connection with their expression of opinion, focusing instead on including those sentenced under a narrow range of charges that were directed against a very few, often, civilian detainees. The report also stresses on the lack of a clear mechanism for the methods of selecting and releasing detainees who have been included in the amnesty, as well as the 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 notes that most of those who were released were civilians, who had been arbitrarily arrested and framed on charges of terrorism, who were tried in courts that lacked the most fundamental legal standards of justice or degrees of litigation, who were granted amnesty, and released.
The report further notes that the Syrian regime did not bring charges and prosecute detainees only in accordance with the General Penal Code in the articles related to crimes against state security, but rather issued the Anti-Terrorism Law, in which it provided vague articles and ambiguous and general definitions of terrorist acts and conspiracy, according to which the largest possible number of detainees could be tried before the Counter-Terrorism Court.
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, protesters, and all peaceful, democratic opponents, dissidents and prisoners of conscience, and to take responsibility in the event of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic 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, and the Russian regime, as well as demanding the Syrian regime to revoke the sentences issued by the Counterterrorism Courts, the military courts, and the Military Field Courts in relation to detainees imprisoned in connection with the popular uprising, as these lack the foundations of court, justice, and law.