Syria’s Bashar Assad granted amnesty Sunday for crimes committed since the
outbreak of a 10-month-old uprising against his rule, state news agency SANA
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Opponents of the Syrian president said the amnesty was
meaningless because most detainees were held without charge in secret police or
military facilities with no due process or legal documentation.
issued several amnesties since the start of protests, including one announced as
recently as November 4, but opposition groups say thousands of people remain
behind bars and many have been tortured or abused.
Also Sunday, United
Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Assad to halt the violence, saying
the “old order” of dynasties and one-man rule in the Arab world was coming to an
SANA said the amnesty for “crimes committed in the context of the
events that occurred from March 15, 2011, until January 15, 2012,” would run to
the end of January for army deserters and people who possessed illegal arms or
who violated laws on peaceful protest.
The regime-linked Addounia
television station said Arab League monitors discussed the amnesty with Damascus
police on Sunday.
The amnesty was announced days before the monitors, who
began work December 26, are due to report to the League on whether Syria is
complying with an Arab League peace plan. Arab foreign ministers will meet
January 22 to discuss the mission’s findings.
Under the plan, Syria’s
government agreed to free detainees, as well as to halt the bloodshed, withdraw
the military from the streets and start a dialogue with the
Assad’s critics derided the amnesty as a sham.
problem is not those who have reached trial or have been sentenced to terms in
civic jails but those who are imprisoned and we don’t know where they are or
anything about them,” said Kamal Labwani, who was freed last month after six
years as a political prisoner and is now in Jordan.
The Avaaz advocacy
group said on December 22 that at least 69,000 people had been detained since
the start of the uprising, of whom 32,000 had been released.
government announcement came as the head of the UN delivered a stinging rebuke
to Damascus’ continuing crackdown. “Today, I say again to President Assad of
Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a
dead end,” Ban told a conference in Lebanon on political reform.
the very beginning of the... revolutions, from Tunisia through Egypt and beyond,
I called on leaders to listen to their people,” Ban said. “Some did, and
benefited. Others did not, and today they are reaping the
“One-man rule and the perpetuation of family dynasties,
monopolies of wealth and power, the silencing of the media, the deprivation of
fundamental freedoms... To all of this, the people say: Enough,” Ban
But he also said the transition to democracy in the region would be
hard and drawn out, requiring genuine reform, inclusive dialogue, a proper role
for women and a solution for millions of young people seeking work. In the short
term, he said, the instability created by the uprisings had exacerbated economic
difficulties. Unemployment is rising, along with food and fuel prices, while
commerce has suffered.
“Meanwhile, old elites remain entrenched. The
levers of coercion remain in their hands,” Ban said. “We have reached a sober
Where authoritarian rulers had been toppled, he said, there was
no guarantee that their successors would uphold human rights.
regimes must not elevate certain religious or ethnic communities at the expense
of others,” Ban said in apparent reference to fears that newly empowered Sunni
Islamist movements could marginalize minorities.
Secretary William Hague questioned whether Sunday’s amnesty offer was
“The Syrian government has had a habit of announcing amnesties
and then making it impossible to verify whether they have really been
implemented,” he told Sky News television.
The UN says more than 5,000
people have been killed in Syria’s crackdown on protests which erupted in
Mazen Adi, a veteran Syrian activist who spent two months in jail
last year during the uprising, said Assad only wanted “to appear to adhere to
the demands of the Arab League.” He said the decree excludes some charges under
which anti-Assad activists have been jailed, such as “belonging to a secret
society with the purpose of toppling the governing system.” Adi said more people
were being detained every day and there was no guarantee that arrests of
peaceful protesters would stop.
“You still have no right to demonstrate
peacefully in Syria. Nothing prevents another wave of arrests of demonstrators
who will be again held indefinitely,” he said.
“Huge numbers of detainees
are in secret police headquarters and complexes. The problem is not a judicial
or legal issue because those detainees spend months before they are referred to
the courts,” Adi said.
On Sunday an Arab League representative said the
bloc had not received any official request or suggestion to send Arab troops to
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, said on Saturday
that Arab troops may have to step in to halt the bloodshed in Syria since the
start of protests in March.
“There is no official suggestion to send Arab
troops to Syria at the current time...
There has been no Arab or a
non-Arab agreement on a military intervention in Syria for the time being,” the
There is little appetite in the West for any
Libya-style intervention in Syria, although France has talked of a need to set
up zones to protect civilians there.