Unknown fate looms over released detainees from Syria’s Saydnaya prison  

DAMASCUS, Syria (North Press) – He went out into the sunlight in a state of fear; his feet were swollen, he suffered from high blood pressure and he had no memory. The 37-year-old Yassin Khalaf, a pseudonym for a relative of the detainee Khaled Abbas, was describing the condition of his relative upon release from Saydnaya Prison.

On April 30, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a legislative decree, offering general amnesty for terrorist crimes committed by Syrians before April 30, 2022.

On January 12, 2012, the 40-year-old man was arrested at a checkpoint of the Syrian government forces stationed in Talbiseh, a town in Homs Governorate.

Abbas, who was 30 when arrested, was released as a result of the general amnesty, according to Khalaf.

Abbas was on his way to secure the daily living for his children when he was arrested at the checkpoint and charged with funding terrorism, the relative added.

“Yes, he did fund terrorism from his vegetable cart,” said Khalaf with a tone filled with sorrow and satire.

“We are really saddened given what he went through. His wife and children are not here; after eight years of waiting, she got married and traveled with his [Khalaf’s] children. His father was killed in an air strike,” he added.

The stories of the detainees inside the prisons of the government have not ended as there are still large numbers of detainees and missing persons whose fate has not been known until now. One of those is the 45-year-old engineer and media activist Mahmoud Awad Mar’i al-Hariri.

His nephew told North Press that his uncle was arrested along with al-Hariri on February 2, 2012 after government forces raided the town of Giza and arrested a number of residents.

His wife and four daughters have been waiting for his return for more than a decade, according to the nephew.

They experience no joy or hope that he will get out of the prison or at least know his fate, the nephew said.

The fate of the prisoners of conscience 

Director of the Paris-based Nophotozone organization, Noura Ghazi Safadi said that she has been working on the prisoners’ case for 18 years.

“The majority of the prisoners of Saydnaya prison have been referred to field trials. The field trials cannot abide by the amnesty because it is related to the authority of the court,” Safadi told North Press.

As for the arrestees in the security branches who were not referred to trial, their amnesty is at the hands of the security branch they are kept in, according to Safadi.

She pointed out that those who were referred to terrorism court, the amnesty will cover them, and mostly those who were not sentenced.

Safadi, who is a lawyer, believed that the problem lies in the fact that “The fate of most of the forcibly disappeared prisoners is unknown. Some of them were announced dead through Registry Directorate like the case of my husband, Bassel Safadi, and we do not know where he was buried.”

She warned that the prisoners’ families could be blackmailed, especially after fake lists of the names of the prisoners were published.

The lawyer indicated that the efforts of the international community to make a change in Syria and its desire to solve the case of the prisoners “is not possible with the presence of the regime, as the international community has no interest in removing the Syrian regime.”        

Amnesty and the law

The decree did not “include those accused of violating articles 285, 286, 287, 291, 292, 293, 306 and 307 of the General Penal Code,” according to Michael Shammas, a Germany-based lawyer and a member of the defense committee for prisoners of conscience.

The aforementioned articles are often “concerned with activists and opponents of the Assad regime.”

He pointed out that “this amnesty includes only those accused under the articles of Terrorism Law No. 19 of 2012, that is, perpetrators of a terrorist act, and it is excluded from the amnesty if the terrorist act leads to the death of a person.”

“Most of those included in Assad’s decree have completed their sentences, or they are about to do,” the lawyer added.

There is no statistic about those who were released, “barely they are no more than hundreds out of hundreds of thousands of detainees and forcibly disappeared in Assad’s prisons and intelligence basements,” according to al-Shammas.

Reporting by Ihsan Muhammad