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Syria’s Assad declares amnesty as election looms

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 11, 2016 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gestures during an exclusive interview with AFP in the capital Damascus. – A decade of war may have ravaged his country, but Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has clung to power and looks determined to cement his position in presidential elections this year. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree on Sunday authorising the release of prisoners, including those convicted for misdemeanours or complicity in acts of “terrorism”, state media said.

The so-called general amnesty comes weeks before the May 26 presidential election, the second such polls since the start of the country’s decade-long civil war. Assad is widely expected to secure a fourth term.

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SANA news agency published the decree but did not say how many prisoners would benefit.

The amnesty stipulates that pardons will be granted to prisoners convicted for crimes committed before May 2, 2021, including those convicted for misdemeanours as well as minors facing certain charges.

The decree includes crimes related to the terrorism act of 2012, including “conspiracy” to commit a “terrorist” act.

“Terrorism” is a term used by Damascus to encompass acts carried out by rebels and anti-regime activists. 

But suspects convicted of “terrorist” acts that led to deaths would not benefit from the amnesty, according to the text of the decree published by the state news agency.

Drug traffickers, smugglers and those convicted for tax evasion could benefit from the amnesty under certain conditions, namely if they agree to pay a fine, according to the text.

Also included in the amnesty are army deserters who turn themselves in within three months — if they are in the country — or within six months if they are abroad, it added.

Prisoners with incurable diseases over the age of 70 and kidnappers who agree to set free their hostages within 10 days would also be eligible.

Similar amnesties were announced in 2018 and in 2019.

In 2014, after securing a new term in a controversial election conducted only in government-controlled areas, Assad likewise issued an amnesty.

Syria’s war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

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