Syria releases online economy critics held without charge in 'presidential election stunt'

Syria releases online economy critics held without charge in 'presidential election stunt'
Hundred of Syrians accused of minor infractions have been released as part of a general amnesty ahead of the upcoming presidential elections.
2 min read
12 May, 2021
The upcoming election is believed to have been already decided [Getty]
The Syrian regime has released hundreds of people detained earlier this year as part of a campaign to stamp out dissent on social media, according to reports by Reuters.

Over 400 civil servants, judges, lawyers, and journalists, arrested using a cyber crime law, were released from detention.

It is believed that only those who are supporters of the president and the regime’s handling of the war were given freedom.

The move came as part of a general amnesty that also saw currency speculators, drug dealers, smugglers and kidnappers freed from prison

Tens of thousands of political detainees remain behind bars with no information about there whereabouts or fate.

The move is widely believed to be a publicity stunt ahead of the upcoming Syrian presidential elections.

The "sham" election is scheduled for 26 May, with Assad's "win" almost certainly guaranteed, analysts say.

Despite the general amnesty, rights groups believe that as many as 100,000 remain in Assad's prisons, where they are subject to torture, execution and other appalling human rights abuses. 

"The auspicious timing of the release right before elections of a moderate loyalist camp... is to generate a facade of entertaining some form of dissent to further make elections look credible," explained Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher with Human Rights Watch. 

Much of the online criticism of the Syrian regime has been focused on the dire economic situation in the country and the rapidly deteriorating living conditions. 

According to reports, many of those initially arrested for online crimes were accused of minor infractions, such as "liking" a comment that was critical of the government. 

Individuals who post comments that are outwardly critical of the Assad regime face much harsher punishment, and were not included in the recent amnesty. 

Read more: Syria Insight: Assad begins his re-election campaign

Leading public figures were among those released, including senior police officers, judges and a customs inspector, state employed journalists, lawyers, university students, businessmen, and women's rights advocates.

Many of the people released were never formally charged or put on trial. 

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