Syria must release all prisoners of conscience under amnesty

Amnesty International has called on Syria’s President to fully implement a “general amnesty” by immediately freeing all prisoners of conscience, including those detained because of their participation in peaceful protests. The call came amid reports that several hundred prisoners, including about nine prisoners of conscience, have already been released. But Syrian human rights activists told Amnesty International the releases appear to be at random with many hundreds of people still detained, many of them incommunicado.     “The announced amnesty, even if it proves substantive, does not go far enough,” said Malcolm Smart. “If President al-Assad’s announcement is to have any credibility, all the prisoners of conscience who have languished in Syria’s jails for years must be released and he must take concrete steps to stop the security forces from committing gross human rights abuses.”President Bashar al-Assad announced on Tuesday that he was issuing a general amnesty for those imprisoned for offences committed before 31 May 2011, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and other “politically affiliated” prisoners. Most of those released following the amnesty announcement had been arrested in connection with the current popular protests and held in detention centres run by Syrian security forces. Amnesty International has also learned of the release of nine prisoners of conscience who had been in prison before the current protests began. The amnesty announcement came ahead of a key UN Security Council debate on the growing crisis in Syria. “The UN Security Council must not be hoodwinked by the amnesty releases into letting up pressure on the Syrian leadership, whose promises to allow greater freedoms have proved so hollow,” said Malcolm Smart. “The Security Council must refer Syria to the ICC Prosecutor as soon as possible and make clear to President al-Assad and those around him that they will be held internationally accountable for the crimes that are being committed by their forces against the people of Syria. The victims of those crimes demand no less.”Since street protests demanding reform began in mid-March, Syrian security forces have waged a campaign of violence against the protesters, killing at least 750 people. Thousands have been arrested, with many being held incommunicado and tortured. At least 12 detainees appear to have died as a direct result of torture in custody, among them two brothers, So’dat and Majd al-Kurdy, from the western town of Tel Kelakh. When their bodies were returned to their family at the end of May, witnesses said both corpses had knife cuts on the chest and legs and Majd’s penis had been cut off.The government has said it is under attack from “armed terrorist gangs” as justification for the crackdown, which has seen army tanks shell residential areas of Dera’a and other cities. Independent reporting of the protests and the security forces’ brutal response has been blocked and international media have not been allowed inside the country.