Syrian authorities have executed 24 people accused of involvement in igniting the wildfires that ravaged the country last year. In a Facebook post on 21 October, the Syrian Ministry of Justice described the 24 men as “criminals who carried out terrorist attacks that led to deaths and damage to infrastructure and public property”. It also said 11 others were sentenced to life in prison in the same case and nine, including five children, received prison sentences.
Responding to the news, Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said:
“The Syrian state has embarked on a horrifying execution spree which exposes its callous disregard for the right to life and contempt for international law. Our research over the years has shown that death sentences are often passed after secret trials without the most basic fair trial guarantees or based on torture-tainted confessions. The death penalty is a cruel punishment and can never be justified – no matter the offence.
“The Syrian authorities should immediately impose a moratorium on the death penalty and work towards its complete abolition. They should also ensure that all criminal procedures and trials follow international standards of fairness.”
Executions are common in war-torn Syria, although the government tries to keep them behind closed doors. Until this day, the Syrian Penal Code allows for the death penalty and Syria remains a retentionist state.
In 2017, Amnesty International exposed the Syrian government’s campaign of extrajudicial executions by mass hangings at Saydnaya Prison. Before they were hanged, the victims were condemned to death in flagrantly unfair and shambolic “trials” at the Military Field Court located in Damascus, which lasted between one and three minutes. Between 2011 and 2015, as many as 13,000 people, most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government, were hanged in secret at Saydnaya.
The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence, or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used to carry out the execution.