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A ‘gift’ from the President: Bashar al-Assad declares amnesty for Syria prisoners

In what a Syrian lawmaker termed a “gift from the President”, the recently triumphant Bashar al-Assad announced a general amnesty for all crimes committed before June 9, 2014, reported state news agency (SANA).

Buoyed by victory in June 3 elections, Assad on Monday issued Legislative Decree no. 22 for 2014 that grants general amnesty to Syria’s prisoners.

However the amnesty will not apply to those guilty of “terrorism”, said state television.

It can be noted that the Assad government uses the term terrorists for all the rebels protesting against his rule.

The official SANA news agency did not say whether the amnesty announced on Monday would apply to the tens of thousands of anti-government activists, protesters, opposition supporters and their relatives that international rights groups say are imprisoned in the country. However, SANA’s report suggested the decree would reduce some prisoners’ sentences without freeing them.

The decree appeared to cover at least some of those who have taken up arms against the government, including foreign fighters, according to SANA. Foreign gunmen will not be prosecuted if they “surrender to the authorities within a month of the issuing of the decree,” the report said. Those behind taking hostages will also be pardoned, SANA said, if they “release their captives safely and without any ransom or hand (the hostages) over to the authorities” within a month.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Syrian lawmaker Issam Khalil called the decree “a gift from the president after he was elected for another term.”

The amnesty includes those who participated in the armed opposition supporters, Khalil said. The government routinely refers to rebels as terrorists.

“All those who committed errors against their homeland will benefit,” Khalil said. “It will allow them to return to their normal lives.”

Syria’s pro-government Al Ikhbariya television station quoted the justice minister as saying that the presidential decree was issued in the “context of social tolerance and national unity.”

“(It comes) against the backdrop of the victories by the Syrian army,” Minister Najem al-Ahmad said. Assad’s forces have been on the offensive in several parts of Syria over the past year, capturing villages and towns the government previously lost to rebels.

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