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Hundreds Gathering in Damascus Await Prisoners Freed in Amnesty

Hundreds Gathering in Damascus Await Prisoners Freed in Amnesty

Thursday, 5 May, 2022 - 09:45
Syrians wait at the President's Bridge in Damascus for relatives they hope would be among those released from prison on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, on the second day of the Fitr holiday. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)

Families of prisoners held for years in Syrian jails are closely watching the implementation of the presidential decree giving a general amnesty to people convicted on terrorism charges. The amnesty excludes acts that have led to killings.


Families from the Syrian opposition are weary that the exclusion could mean that some of the detainees were put on death row.


Relatives assembled in the “President's Bridge” area, awaiting the arrival of buses carrying people who have been held for years in Syria’s infamous prisons, many for participating in the 2011 protests against President Bashar al-Assad.


Other families have gathered since Monday in Sednaya, north of Damascus, which is home to Syria's largest and most notorious military prison.


Those released are transported on buses to the above mentioned areas and left there without money to enable them to return to their original areas of residence.


Locals told Asharq Al-Awsat that public taxi and bus drivers have volunteered to transport some of the released detainees to their neighborhoods for free.


“Where will the released persons, who have no relatives left in the regime-controlled areas, go?” wondered some locals.


Facebook pages also published footage of crowds of detainees' families gathered under the "President's Bridge", waiting for their released relatives. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that a large part of those who were released suffer from amnesia.


The Britain-based war monitor also revealed it documented the release of 240 detainees, with the justice ministry promising more will be freed in coming days.


Human rights activists described the number of those released so far as “very small.”


“Since the outbreak of the revolution more than 11 years ago, tens of thousands have been arrested, and therefore the number of those released is considered insignificant,” one activist told Asharq Al-Awsat.


The Observatory reported that security services had informed members of the ruling Baath Party that many other detainees will be freed in the coming hours. They pointed out that under the amnesty decree, “tens of thousands of detainees imprisoned in the regime's prisons will be released.”


The father of one of the detainees told Asharq Al-Awsat that his son has not yet been set free.


“They arrested him in 2012 because he participated in demonstrations, and all we know is that he is in Sednaya prison, and the last information we received was in 2015 that he was still alive at the time,” the father explained.


“His mother and I live in hope of us seeing him alive again, but we asked a number of those who are out now about him, but no one knew anything...we fear that they killed him,” he added.


“I've been expecting my five children and my husband since 2014,” Umm Maher told AFP.


“The oldest is 25 and the youngest 15. We have nothing to do with terrorism,” she added, referring to what many say is a blanket charge often used to detain civilians.


Like Umm Maher, Umm Abdo was waiting for her two sons, who disappeared in 2013.


“I hope they come back,” she said. “I told my neighbor that she should hold me if I see them, because I might faint. I don't even know if I will recognize them.”


On Saturday, Assad issued a decree giving a general amnesty to people convicted on terrorism charges before April 30, 2022. However, the amnesty excludes those who committed acts that led to killings.


Experts with the terminology used by the regime in such decrees told Asharq Al-Awsat that some of those charged with a “terrorist crime that led to the death of a human being,” which the decree excluded from the amnesty, “may have been executed.”


“This is the first time in years that prisoners have been released from Sednaya prison,” Muhammad al-Abdullah, director of the Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability, told AFP.


According to Amnesty International, as many as 13,000 people have been hanged to death in Sednaya between September 2011 and December 2015.


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