x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Assad issues general pardon for all Syrian political prisoners

Dissidents say it is 'too early' to welcome widest-reaching pardon for political prisoners in decades until exact details became clear.

DAMASCUS // The Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, has issued a general pardon for "all political prisoners" held in Syrian jails, apparently meeting one of the major demands made by anti-government protesters.

Sana, the state run news agency, announced last night that decree number 61 would apply to all prisoners convicted of political crimes, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Opposition figures in Syria have made freeing all political prisoners a central condition for entering into a proposed national dialogue talks, intended to steer a way out of an unprecedented crisis that has gripped the country since demonstrations began in March.

"If they follow through on this, if all the prisoners are released - and we should see the results of that very soon, then this is highly significant," said a Damascus based political analyst, on condition of anonymity. "This is the widest-reaching pardon for political prisoners in decades."

A leading Syrian dissident last night said it was "too early" to welcome the move until the exact details became clear. Activists have been wary of reforms trumpeted by the authorities, since the last apparently significant step - lifting 48 years of draconian martial rule - failed to stop security forces arresting dissidents without warrants or using live ammunition against civilian protesters.

Ending the use of lethal violence against demonstrators has been another requirement laid down by opposition groups for entering into political negotiations with the authorities.

The general amnesty comes a day after the ruling Baath party said a committee for national dialogue involving "all political currents” would be announced no later than Thursday.