Thousands of Syrians gather in Damascus hoping to reunite with detained relatives

Thousands of Syrians gather in Damascus hoping to reunite with detained relatives
2 min read
08 May, 2022
Days after a presidential decree granting amnesty to people arrested on terrorism charges, families continue to gather in Syrian cities to look for their loved ones.
Many Syrians gathered in Damascus hoping for the release of relatives held in regime prisons. [LOUAI BESHARA/AFP via Getty]

Hundreds of Syrian families gathered in Damascus and other large Syrian cities over the past few days, hoping to reunite with their detained relatives released by the Syrian regime following a presidential amnesty decree, local media reported.

On April 30, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree granting amnesty to those convicted of “terrorist crimes”. In the four days that followed the amnesty decree, an estimated 193 detainees were released according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), a local human rights watchdog.

“The regime releases small numbers in consecutive batches over a long period,” Nour al-Khatib, the head of SNHR’s Detention and Enforced Disappearance Department, told the Syrian news site Syria Direct.

Assad has issued multiple amnesties since the start of the war, but the April 30 decree is the first to cover terrorism charges, which are often used to jail opponents to the regime.

Among those released are people imprisoned for years in the notorious Sednaya prison, described by human rights organisations as a "human slaughterhouse" where the regime killed an estimated 13,000 people by hanging in four years.

The number of detainees eligible for the amnesty is unclear, due to the opacity of the Syrian judicial system and the lack of information provided about prisoners' statuses. Since the government does not issue lists of those to be released, many families travelled to prisons nearby and to the Syrian capital in the hope of spotting a missing relative.

Since the start of the 2011 revolution, dozens of thousands of ordinary Syrians have been arbitrarily arrested at security checkpoints across Syria and detained - often without charges and due legal process and without informing their relatives of their whereabouts. More than 130,000 people have been detained or forcibly disappeared by Syrian regime forces as of March 2022 according to the SNHR. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another watchdog, places that figure at half a million people.

The families of detainees have to rely on testimonies from released prisoners to get news on their relatives. Many have been requested to pay huge sums in bribes to regime officials in exchange for information.

The latest amnesty decree comes a few days after an investigation documenting the slaughter of dozens of civilians by regime forces in the Damascus suburb of Al-Tadamon in 2013, dubbed the "Tadamon massacre".