Syria Feature: Assad’s Amnesty? Many Activists Still Not Freed from Prison

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On June 9, the Assad regime loudly proclaimed that it was issuing an amnesty for many detainees in the spirit of “reconciliation”.

Twelve NGOs put that proclamation in context, reporting on Friday via the Human Rights Watch website on the continued imprisonment of activists, journalists, and workers for humanitarian organizations:


Scores of civil society activists, human rights defenders, media and humanitarian workers remain in arbitrary detention in Syria more than a month after the government declared a general amnesty, twelve nongovernmental organizations said today. Syrian officials should immediately release all activists arbitrarily held for their legitimate activities and allow independent international monitors inside Syria’s detention facilities to monitor the releases and conditions of confinement.

Legislative Decree no. 22, enacted on June 9, 2014, declares an amnesty for many of the charges peaceful activists are facing, including “weakening national sentiment,” as well as some offenses under the Anti-Terrorism Law that are being used to muzzle dissent. But many peaceful activists who should have benefitted from the amnesty remain in detention, the organizations said.

Other individuals who are arbitrarily detained as a result of their human rights-related activities, including some of those facing charges in military field courts, like freedom of expression advocate Bassil Khartabil, have been excluded from the amnesty. Some advocates, like the lawyers and human rights defenders Khalil Maatouk and Abdulhadi Cheikh Awad, whom former detainees report to have seen in government detention, continue to be held in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance with their relatives having no information about their fate or whereabouts. Of a group of 34 peaceful activists whose cases the organizations have been monitoring, only one, Yara Faris, was released under the June 9 amnesty….

Family members, detainees, and lawyers complained about the lack of transparency about the implementation of the amnesty, such as providing information about who would be released.

SANA, the government news agency, released several statements about the numbers of people released in the amnesty, totaling 2,445.

A lawyer working with political detainees in Damascus who is monitoring the implementation of the amnesty to identify which individuals have been released told the organizations that the confirmed number of releases has not exceeded 1,300 individuals including regular criminal detainees. The lawyer said that those released included about 400 individuals that were before the Anti-Terrorism court, 200 from Sednaya prison, 200 from the security branches, and 150 others from other governorate prisons. He stated that judges sent the files of some detainees who ought to be released under the amnesty back to the public prosecutor to change the charges to ones that would fall outside the scope of the general amnesty. Other local activists also told the organizations that the amnesty occurred weeks after an intensified campaign of arbitrary arrest, and that some of the persons arrested were subsequently released on the basis of the amnesty decree.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), another local monitoring group reported on July 10 that it had compiled information about 632 civilian detainees released since June 10 under the amnesty, including 384 held on criminal charges that are apparently not related to the conflict. The 248 others were human rights activists, lawyers, and doctors, 200 of whom were released by the Anti-Terrorism court. The group said that 25 defectors accused of disobeying military orders or not completing their compulsory military service were also released.

The Anti-Terrorism court, established in July 2012 to implement the Anti-Terrorism Law, has tried and sentenced many human rights defenders and other peaceful activists. The charges are brought under the guise of countering violent militancy, but frequently the allegations against the activists actually amount to such acts as distributing humanitarian aid, participating in protests, and documenting human rights abuses.

On July 21, the Anti-Terrorism court will resume the trial of Mazen Darwish and four of his colleagues from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression on accusations of “publicizing terrorist acts,” a charge that is included in the legislative decree.

Darwish is on trial along with Hussein Gharir, Hani Zaitani, Mansour Omari, and Abdel Rahman Hamada. Omari and Hamada were conditionally released on February 6, 2013 pending trial, but the other three men remain in detention….

The activists who remain arbitrarily held despite the June 9 amnesty include 33 of the 34 detainees held by the government as of June 9 featured in the Free Syria’s Silenced Voices campaign, carried out by a coalition of independent groups on behalf of activists, and humanitarian and media workers arbitrarily detained by the government.

While it is impossible to verify the number of people in detention in Syria, the Violations Documentation Center, another local monitoring group, reports that 40,853 people detained since the start of the uprising in March 2011 are still being held….

Read full report….

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Kevin,

    This is for you.

    http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2014/07/2014-07-14-Balance-of-Power.pdf

    Things to notice: (a) Obama’s approval rating in Israel (71%) higher that in the US (58%). (b) U.S. Favorability (page 14): notice the difference between the views of Amrica’s natural allies, and unnatural ones, like Pakistan. (c) Only the Philippine people like you more than the Israelis.

    On general, I was surprised by the global overwhelming rejection of the use of drones.

    • I’ve already read that. Of course other countries reject the use of drones. They aren’t the ones who have terrorists plotting to kill as many of their citizens as humanly possible. They aren’t the ones who watched their citizens plunge to horrific deaths on 9/11. Drones have been remarkably effective in wiping out key al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. People in the middle east have always been more comfortable looking for a scapegoat for all their problems and who better to blame than the most powerful country in the world? I never said that Israel wasn’t a natural ally in the middle east. Of course they are.

      I don’t like the fact that some Israeli politicians behave like the US owes Israel blind support regardless of what actions Israel takes. I don’t like the fact that when Israel takes disproportionate actions the people in the region at least partially blame the US. I also don’t like the fact that Israel completely ignores the US when we dare to express legitimate concern about some of Israel’s policies. I especially don’t like the fact that Israel blatantly meddles in US internal affairs by supporting more hawkish politicians. Netanyahu did everything except openly support Romney in the last election. It was clear he wanted Romney to win. That was a big mistake.

      If you ask the people in the region what their number one problem with the US is many will say that it is our perceived unfair support to Israel. Don’t try to tell me that Israeli policy doesn’t affect US security. Bin Laden himself said that he got the idea for attacking the twin towers on 9/11 from watching Israel bomb towers in Lebanon. Israel likes us? Big deal. You think it’s a coincidence that the Philippines and Israel favor the US the most? No, because they both depend on the US against their enemies. The second they don’t think they need us anymore that will end. I’ve seen it happen with other countries.

      I think it’s rather interesting that we support Israel at the UN considering they stabbed us in the back by refusing to support our position on Russia’s role in Ukraine at the UN general assembly vote. The only countries the US can truly count on are Britain, Canada, and Australia. We have unshakeable cultural ties with those countries that can’t be broken. They are our cousins. Other than those countries the rest of our alliances are alliances of convenience.

      • Don’t get me wrong though. I fully support Israel’s right to defend themselves against terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah who refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. I think their response has been appropriate for a bunch of terrorists raining down rockets trying to indiscriminately murder civilians. I would never toss aside our alliance with Israel for the sake of regimes like the mullahs and that would be politically impossible anyways.

      • Kevin, that is not correct. A lot of countries have terrorist issues. And the US certainly has no monopoly on observing horrific deaths of it’s citizens.

        The issue with drones is that it breaches sovereignty with impunity through a loophole in international law. What would you think if a foreign military force came to the US and murdered a man with US asylum? How much would the fact this foreign country has designates this man a terrorist matter to you?

        • Nobody would need to come to the US and try to murder someone because we aren’t the ones harboring terrorists who are planning attacks on other countries. Sovereignty comes with responsibilities and if other countries are unable or unwilling to keep their soil from being used by terrorists then we won’t sit by again while terrorists plot freely.

          • Kevin, you are missing my point. Designation of terrorist is made on a national level, not international. Just because the US brands an organization as terrorist, it does not bind any other country. There are in fact many groups designated as terrorist by their respective governments that the US does no classify as such.

            So, you actually are harboring terrorists.

  2. About interfering in the US internal politics, I agree with you. I also don’t like Jews in America’s politics (that are immediately being suspected with double loyalty), like this hideous gambling mogul (can’t remember his name). You, as an American should ask yourself what makes American politicians so susceptible to Israeli pressures. Is it just AIPAC? I’m not sure. Any way, in Israel we have laws that limit the access and power of lobbyists.

    To be frank, I’m sometimes surprised by the huge degree of support that Israel enjoys in the American political establishment (both houses). Between myself I wonder what is the base and the reason for this overwhelming support. AIPAC? (this is very shallow to blame all on AIPAC). Jewish vote? Jews are just 3% or so. I still couldn’t figure it out.

    About Russia and the Ukraine. I’m not familiar with this incident. I can only speculate. There are big Jewish communities in both countries. There’s a huge Jewish Russian community of immigrants in Israel (more that 1 million out of about 5.5 million Jews). I believe that Israeli leaders want to avoid confrontation with this eastern block.

    • The secret is in the same group that brought Bush jr. into power: Evangelists. Their belief is that all Jews will someday convert to Christianity, so their support for them is only logical.

    • Support for Israel comes from four main causes in the US.
      1) Israel is a rare democracy in a region of dictatorships
      2) Biblical prophecy looks favorably upon Israel(the US is much more religious than Europe)
      3) Israel has powerful lobbyists such as AIPAC
      4) The horrors of the holocaust compel people to support and sympathize with Israel

      The guy you’re thinking of is Sheldon Adelson. He has ties to Netanyahu and he donated huge amounts to Romney’s campaign. The only places where the Jewish vote is really relevant is in Florida and parts of New York. I’ve always thought we need much stronger laws against lobbyists. They’ve gotten out of control. Everybody has lobbyists in Washington these days including enemies such as Iran who use organizations such as NIAC as unofficial lobbyists. Israel supposedly didn’t back us at the UN because they didn’t want to upset Russia. I don’t quite see why they would seek to appease Russia at our expense considering Russia frequently runs anti-Israeli propaganda on state run media such as RT. I think Netanyahu was partially trying to stick it to Obama.

      I’ve never disputed that Israel is a natural ally and I understand why so many politicians support them. Sometimes I feel like that support is excessive and harmful to other interests. I actually like Israel’s anti-terrorism policies. I prefer aggressive policies against terrorists who threaten the homeland.

      • “I don’t quite see why they would seek to appease Russia at our expense considering Russia frequently runs anti-Israeli propaganda on state run media such as RT”

        That propganda was designed to bring right wing delusionals into Alexander Dugin´s eurasianist project (principal victims being european far right neopagans and fringe catholics who rejects II Vatican council), all of them have a common hatred for islam, some of them are also against jews and others are against sionism. Because russia has a HUGE sunni muslim comunity they can´t run a straight and open campaing against them so they co-opt forces who opose them trough anti-Israeli propaganda or targeting the gay community -far right extremist tend to hate gay people and also believe sionism secretly rules the world-.

        Russia has a very strong ethnic tie with israel, also they have the same enemy within. Kremlin´s nomenklatura has a de facto alliance with Israel that will grow stronger in the future -http://forward.com/articles/195444/israel-abstains-from-un-resolution-slamming-russia/-.

        -Russia’s Jews point to important agenda of Putin’s upcoming meeting with rabbis- : http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=11386

        The United States has not that problem and because it only has “permanent interests” maybe israel is sensing that the sheriff is getting ready to shake the caliph´s hand. If all this is true then the Operation Protective Edge is nothing but a desperate attempt to neutralize reactionary islam i the backyard before the dark storm that is coming from the east reach the horizon.

        Remeber Sergei Lavrov´s words:

        FP: How would you describe your own view of international relations? Many people with whom I have spoken have suggested that you are ultimately a realist — a Russian realist — and that you’re not looking for ideology to play a role as much as defending Russia’s national interest. Is that a fair assessment?

        Lavrov: Well, that’s what I believe we are trying to do. I don’t believe in ideology in international relations. I started, you know, to work as a diplomat during the Soviet days, and in spite of ideology being very high on the Communist Party agenda, I can assure you that in practical terms we have always been trying to be pragmatic.

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