Syrian political prisoners’ families told to stop waiting in Damascus

Crowds have gathered at a bus stop ever since President Bashar Al Assad announced an amnesty on April 30

People wait at a junction in Damascus that has become a focal point for the relatives of political prisoners. AP

Authorities in Syria have told relatives of political prisoners to stop waiting for them at a main junction in Damascus after President Bashar Al Assad issued an amnesty on April 30 for people jailed for “terrorist crimes”.

Photos on social media and from the Associated Press showed crowds of people waiting at the junction, where buses usually stop.

“The assembly and waiting are unnecessary,” the Syrian Justice Ministry said in a statement.

”Those included in the amnesty will be released directly and individually, and one after the other, after the legal procedures are finished.”

The ministry “knows and highly appreciates the eagerness of the relatives to meet their sons”, it said.

Thousands of Syrians have been imprisoned under terrorism laws, or arbitrarily, since the 2011 revolt against five decades of Assad family rule.

A crackdown by the Alawite-dominated regime on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that began in March 2011 prompted a violent backlash by members of the country’s Sunni majority, culminating in a civil war.

Many opponents of the regime have been forcibly disappeared or summarily executed in the past decade.

Photographs leaked by a Syrian defector, known as the Caesar Photos, show thousands of corpses of people who died in regime jails, many bearing signs of torture.

A video released by the Guardian newspaper last week purportedly shows regime intelligence personnel summarily executing 41 people in the mostly opposition district of Tadamun in Damascus in 2013.

Mr Al Assad’s amnesty was issued as Syria seeks to restore its international standing after being isolated over its response to the uprising. Several Arab countries, including neighbouring Jordan, have already moved to normalise ties with his government.

Fawaz Tello, an independent opposition figure living in exile in Berlin, said the amnesty was “meant to show that the regime is still capable of normalisation with its people”.

The amnesty excludes prisoners accused of being involved in killings. Mr Tello said many jailed dissidents were forced under torture to admit to violence they did not commit.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said 193 people out of 132,000 people detained by the regime since 2011 have been released in the past few days.

They had spent two to eight years in jail and included 24 women and seven prisoners who were minors when they were arrested, said the network, which operates from Turkey and monitors and documents rights breaches in the Syrian conflict.

It said photos and other information provided by the prisoners’ relatives showed that those released were held under crowded and “extremely bad conditions as far as torture committed against them and near absence of health and medical care”.

A Syrian man who phoned an imprisoned relative last week said the chances of his release were minimal because he was beaten and forced to sign a confession stating he took part in killing regime personnel.

His relative is an engineer who was arrested in 2012 after filming anti-regime protests in Damascus and sending the footage to international media, he told The National.

“He is resigned to the fact that he will not be released,” he said.

Updated: May 08, 2022, 4:05 PM