BEIRUT: Nearly a thousand people in Damascus province alone have benefited from a sweeping amnesty decree by President Bashar Assad, state news agency SANA said Tuesday.
Considerable confusion has surrounded the details of the amnesty, which was issued after Assad was re-elected to a third presidential term earlier this month.
A pro-regime newspaper, Al-Watan, said this week that 10,000 people had been released under the amnesty, which stipulates both sentence reductions and full pardons under a complex series of categories. It has also expected that the total figure could end up being as high as 30,000 prisoners and detainees.
Anti-regime activists have expressed their hope that thousands of political prisoners would be released, including those under the jurisdiction of the state anti-terrorism court. However, very few high-profile prisoners have been released, as some activists claim that the majority of people benefiting from the amnesty are common criminals and not prisoners of conscience.
SANA gave a detailed set of figures for Damascus province, where 959 people have “fully” benefited from the amnesty, meaning they have been released, while another 240 people benefited “partially,” namely having their sentences reduced.
The news item also broke down the figure of 959, by detailing which branch of the judiciary or security services was responsible for the inmates’ detention or imprisonment.
Just over half – 543 – were held by various security agencies and were full beneficiaries of the amnesty, SANA said, quoting Ahmad Bakri, Damascus’ chief public prosecutor.
In Latakia province, Governor Ahmad Sheikh Abdel-Qader advised nine released detainees to take advantage of the amnesty and begin a “new page, based on love of country and participating in returning safety and security throughout Syria.”
SANA said its correspondent spoke with those released in Latakia, who said they were “sorry for their past behavior, which was a result of misleading media and false facts.”
A public prosecutor for Latakia, Suheila Ibrahim, said 159 people had been covered by the amnesty thus far in the province.
In the southern province of Swaida, the public prosecutor, Asaad Sayyaf, said 17 new releases had taken place, bringing the number of people who benefited from the amnesty to 63 people.