SYRIA: Government releases hundreds of detainees, protesters not satisfied
The Syrian government freed 500 detainees Wednesday in an attempt to appease protesters who have shaken the regime with weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations.
The releases followed promises made Tuesday by President Bashar Assad to pardon people detained in the waves of arrest since the protests began in March.
"The amnesty includes all members of Muslim Brotherhood and other detainees belonging to political movements," reported SANA, the official state news agency.
The move came as Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading rights watchdogs, issued a report Wednesday declaring that the Syrian government was guilty of committing "crimes against humanity."
Despite the concessions, violent crackdowns continued in and around the town of Rastan, near Homs, resulting in at least 20 confirmed deaths with dozens more injured, according to opposition groups. Tanks fired heavy artillery in four different places of the central town, the sources said.
More than 31 bodies were taken from Rastan to the national hospital of Homs, said Ahed Hindi, a Syrian dissident now based in the United States.
Despite Assad's amnesty offer, protesters continued their rallies demanding Assad step down and insisting that the government had lost its legitimacy.
Residents of Kuswa, a suburb of Damascus, took to the streets Tuesday night chanting "Allahu Akbar on Bashar," — a slogan meaning the Syrian president should fear God's wrath.
"I think Assad is the one who needs amnesty now, not the Syrian people," said an activist in Homs, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
"This seems to be more like a hoax designed to confuse and appease Western leaders who still call on Assad to reform. We wont be fooled. But we welcome those who will be released into our ranks and we will go on with the revolution," said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based Syrian dissident.
Some believe that amnesty was granted by the Syrian government to distract people from a major conference Wednesday in Antalya, Turkey, which brought together several Syrian opposition members.
Skeptical opposition forces have said Assad's amnesty falls short.
"Most of the political prisoners are not included in the amnesty. It exludes all those who are sentenced according to the code 306 of Syrian law, but most political activists in Syria are sentenced according to this code," Hindi said.
According to Hindi, who himself has spent time imprisoned in Damascus, one of the most prominent prayer leaders in the capital, Shaker Nabulsi, has been arrested.
"Assad is now targeting the elite of Imams and sheiks in Damascus. Something that did not happen in the 1980s," Hindi said.
The Human Rights Watch report said the Syrian government had engaged in the "systematic killings of protesters and bystanders" in Dara in March and April, in its crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
"The nature and scale of abuses committed by the Syrian security forces, the similarities in the apparent unlawful killings and other crimes, and evidence of direct orders given to security forces to ‘shoot-to-kill’ protesters, strongly suggest these abuses qualify as crimes against humanity," the report said.