BEIRUT: A pro-regime Syrian newspaper said Wednesday that “tens of thousands” of detainees would be covered by this week’s unprecedented amnesty approved by Syrian President Bashar Assad, with approximately 3,000 people already released as part of the measure.
Al-Watan, which is close to the regime and periodically publishes material considered too sensitive for publication in state-run dailies, cited judicial sources in making the claims.
It said approximately 80 government employees were currently working “around the clock” at the Justice Palace in Damascus, preparing the administrative paperwork to release detainees and convicts as part of the wide-ranging amnesty, issued in the wake of Assad’s re-election victory last week.
The newspaper said it expected the process to continue throughout the month of June, due to the large number of people who would eventually benefit from the amnesty.
“It’s likely that the number of released detainees will be in the tens of thousands,” the newspaper said.
It indicated that the authorities were reviewing the files of people who have been found guilty of various offenses, as well as those whose cases have yet to come to trial.
It said approximately 3,000 people in the provinces of Damascus and rural Damascus had been released up till now.
Anti-regime activists have expressed varying views on the move – some believe it will lead to the release of some prominent, long-held individuals, while others have voiced the belief that the regime might release a large number of common criminals along with a small number of prisoners of conscience.
However, prominent activists accused of “terrorism” by the authorities remain in prison despite the announcement, a rights lawyer said.
“We are waiting for the releases, but none of the prominent activists has yet been set free. There is no transparency in this amnesty process,” said human rights lawyer Michel Shammas.
State news agency SANA announced early Wednesday the release of 274 people from the Damascus Central Prison, also known as Adra Prison.
SANA did not specify when the prisoners were released, but described them as “a first batch” of people released under the amnesty.
Shammas, meanwhile, said: “State media has announced a significant number, but we don’t know whether they are being amnestied under the decree, which pardons people accused under the anti-terror law.”
He also said, “We have no news of prominent detainees like [journalist] Mazen Darwish,” whose release was expected under the decree.
The amnesty is unprecedented because it extends for the first time to those accused under sweeping anti-terror legislation passed in July 2012, under which tens of thousands of peaceful dissidents, like Darwish, and armed rebels have been held.
The Syrian government has systematically branded armed and unarmed dissidents of being “foreign-backed terrorists.”
A day after the decree was announced, state television showed dozens of prisoners being freed in the city of Hama.
But rights activists have demanded that the amnesty include all detainees, including more than 50,000 held without charge in Syria’s notorious security branches.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime organization, said that it hoped the moves would help uncover the fate of some 18,000 missing persons, as well as lead to the release of the 70,000 people it said were believed to be in regime prisons and detention centers.