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HomeArrestAmnesty Decree No. 36 of 2023 Excludes Political Prisoners

Amnesty Decree No. 36 of 2023 Excludes Political Prisoners

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The Syrian Regime Has Failed to Release At Least 3,6969 Children and 144 Detainees Aged 70 or Older, Despite Their Inclusion in Previous Amnesty Decrees

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Press release: (Download the full report below)

The Hague – The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) today release a report entitled, ‘Amnesty Decree No. 36 of 2023 Excludes Political Prisoners’, in which the group stressed that the Syrian regime has failed to release at least 3,696 children and 144 detainees aged 70 or older, despite their inclusion in many previous amnesty decrees.

The 16-page report notes that the Syrian regime promulgated a total of 23 amnesty decrees between March 2011 and November 20, 2023. While this figure might seem relatively high, all these amnesty decrees have failed to secure the release of more than a miniscule proportion of the detainees and forcibly disappeared persons imprisoned in the regime’s detention centers. To put this into perspective, the report adds that amnesty decrees have led to the release of only 7,351 arbitrarily arrested detainees, with the regime still holding approximately 135,253 detainees/forcibly disappeared persons. That is to say, all of these amnesty decrees have secured the release of less than five percent of all those detained and forcibly disappeared by the regime since 2011, while the regime’s machinery of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance has never ceased its operations.

The report notes that, on November 16, 2023, the Syrian regime promulgated Legislative Decree No. 36 of 2023, providing a general amnesty for all crimes committed before the date of the decree. This decree was preceded by three other amnesty decrees in 2022. The report notes that, by issuing these amnesty decrees over this short period of time, the regime is trying to promote a distorted image to influence public opinion and mislead the international community by claiming that it is indeed releasing detainees. Simultaneously, the regime is also trying to accomplish domestic goals related to the deteriorating state of its overcrowded prisons. That is to say that the regime is releasing more actual criminals and contravening its punitive laws just to relieve the pressure on its prisons, to such a degree that in many Syrian areas today, criminals have no hesitation in committing crimes knowing that they will be included in any upcoming amnesty decree. The high frequency of the regime’s issuance of these amnesty decrees has popularized and perpetuated this mindset among criminals, especially since these decrees primarily favor them.

The report presents an analysis of the text of Legislative Decree No. 36 of 2023 resting on seven main points, divided into two sections; the first of these focuses on full and partial pardons, while the second focuses on exceptions to the amnesty, namely detainees and persons forcibly disappeared by the regime, which the report believes to be one of the reasons why the regime issued this decree in this way and form. As the report reveals, no fewer than 86 detainees and forcibly disappeared persons who were aged 70 at the time of their arrest are incarcerated in regime prisons, with at least 58 of these individuals having passed the age of 70 since their arrest in recent years. None of these prisoners have been released by the Syrian regime despite the fact that this article has been included in many amnesty decrees, including Article 4 of Legislative Decree No. 13 of 2021, and Article 3 of Legislative Decree No. 6 of 2022.

The report adds that, despite the fact that Legislative Decree No. 36 provides a full pardon for all corrective measures for juvenile offenders, and a partial pardon for one-third of offenses committed by the juveniles, this article excludes no fewer than 3,696 children who were arrested between March 2011 and November 20, 2023, and are still detained and/or forcibly disappeared in regime detention centers. This means that the regime has once again violated all domestic legislative standards put in place for trying juveniles. For one, according to Law No. 18 of 1974, amended by Legislative Decree No. 52 of 2003, a juvenile can only be tried by a juvenile court. Juvenile law prohibits any other court from trying children, whether they were prosecuted for criminal or political cases, even if the court’s mandate includes trying such cases, such as exceptional courts. Despite this, the Syrian regime has referred children to exceptional courts such as the now-disbanded Military Field Court and the Counterterrorism Court without assigning any special juvenile judge, as required, except in a handful of cases. Many of these children have received exceptionally harsh sentences, including both long prison sentences and even death sentences.

Furthermore, Legislative Decree No. 36 grants full pardon for the crimes named in Articles 285 and 286 of the Syrian Penal Code established in Legislative Decree No. 148 of 1494 and its subsequent amendments, provided that they were committed by Syrian nationals. These offenses, which are commonly included in amnesty decrees, are usually introduced alongside others not included in the amnesty decrees to help provide grounds to charge detainees. Therefore, they have no effect on detainees and persons forcibly disappeared in regime detention centers, which was the case in previous amnesty decrees, as they were included but never led to the release of any of those detained for the reason mentioned above.

Additionally, the report notes that Legislative Decree No. 36 excludes all offenses used as grounds to charge detainees and forcibly disappeared persons, whether these were used in a widespread or limited manner. In either case, this was part of the aims of the decree, to cater to offenders who committed criminal misdemeanors and felonies, but to exclude political prisoners. To that end, the report concludes that it is clear that this decree does not deviate from the regime’s conventional policy in its previous decrees. In other words, those decrees give no hope to the detainees and their families, but are riddled with loopholes, exceptions, and requirements that render them effectively ineffectual, save for posing a serious threat to anyone who delusionally surrenders themselves within the period specified in the hopes of being included in the amnesty, as well as dragging more young Syrians into the military by conscription and involving them in the conflict.

Moreover, the report concludes that Legislative Decree No. 36 of 2023 was designed specifically to ensure the release of drug users, deserters, military servicemen, and criminals who committed misdemeanors and infractions. Meanwhile, the decree excludes all prisoners of conscience and detainees arrested in the context of the conflict, which leaves it devoid of legal meaning and with no real bearing on the release of detainees and forcibly disappeared persons held in regime detention centers. Also, the frequent nature of the regime’s issuance of amnesty decrees, which are not aimed at political prisoners, only harms the state’s penal policies, since these decrees lead to the release of thousands of actual offenders. The exceptionally frequent release of these amnesty decrees also leads to many dysfunctions in court procedures at all levels. At this point, many judges are deferring their decisions on legal rulings in many cases since they may be included in future decrees.

The report warns the UN Security Council and the UN to be wary of accepting the claims made by the regime about its amnesty decrees, which lack any credibility both in theory and practice, and calls for the release of detainees whose arrest and detention are based on false grounds with no evidence. Rather, these prisoners have been arrested for rightfully demanding their right to political change and expression.

The report also calls on the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) to provide an honest and clear picture of the true meaninglessness of the amnesty decrees issued by the Syrian regime to the UN Security Council and the whole world. Furthermore, the report calls on the Syrian regime to dissolve the exceptional Counterterrorism Court, and repeal any rulings issued by the Military Field Court since they lack the most basic foundations of justice. Also, the report states, the regime should compensate those affected by those courts and rulings, and restore their legal and personal rights, in addition to making various other recommendations.

Download the full report

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