Middle East

Syria amnesty must include peaceful activists: rights groups

Lucie Morillon, head of research at French watchdog Reporters without Borders holds a banner depicting Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish during a protest against violence in Syria, in Paris, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

BEIRUT: International rights groups on Thursday urged Syria's Bashar al-Assad to release peaceful activists, journalists and aid workers as part of an amnesty and to allow UN monitors inside prisons.

Assad, who is fighting a 19-month revolt against his regime, on Tuesday declared a general amnesty "for crimes committed before October 23," except for those carried out by "terrorists" -- the regime's term for armed rebels.

But nine international rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation for Human Rights said in a statement the amnesty must also apply to the "many peaceful activists in detention".

Rights groups say tens of thousands of people have been detained since the start of the revolt.

"If president Assad is serious about his amnesty, he should open the doors of all his prisons to independent monitors to check who is actually detained and why," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Otherwise, this amnesty will be yet another false promise, with released detainees soon replaced by other activists, humanitarians, and journalists locked up for peacefully doing their jobs."

The statement said widespread rights violations were taking place in detention facilities.

"Peaceful activists, human rights defenders, aid workers, lawyers, doctors, writers, and journalists continue to be held, often arbitrarily, in incommunicado detention, and subject to torture and ill-treatment," it said.





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