Amnesty Seen to Open Doors for Political Liberalization in Syria
By Nabil Al Mulhem
Albawaba.com - Damascus
A mass amnesty by Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday, in which about 600 political prisoners were set free, was seen as a major step towards more openness in Syria’s political life, although certain political groups said it was too early to judge the effect of the decision on Syria’s politics.
Members of parties functioning under the Progressive Front ruling coalition told Albawaba.com that the amnesty is a prelude to more liberalization in Syrian political and partisan life.
They expected that a political parties’ law will follow soon. Dialogue has been underway between intellectuals, university professors and liberals who belong to the so-called market powers on the one hand, and the authority on the other, through which views have been exchanged on the long-waited law.
However, sources linked to human rights groups told Albawaba.com that it is premature to talk about political rapprochement in Syria, although they described the decision as “a positive step that reveals a new mentality” in the country.
There are already 16 parties in Syria, some work underground and seven have joined the ruling Baath in the Progressive Front coalition, but none has been licensed as Syria has no laws for political parties.
The freed prisoners belong to outlawed political groups, and were all tried before martial “field” and state security courts. Both types of court function under the martial laws which still apply in the country.
Human rights groups say there were 1300 opinion and conscience prisoners in Syrian jails.
According to sources, 29 prisoners belonging to the Communist Action League are still behind bars. The CAL is a radical leftist faction which adopted the “New Leftism” thought when it was founded in 1976.
These include poet Faraj Berekdar (jailed since 1987), Abdul Aziz El Kheir (1992, sentenced to 22 years), Akram Binni and Wajih Ghanem (both arrested in 1987). Ghanem is said to be in bad health due to kidney problems. These four, in addition to Mohammad Me’mar, are detained in Sednaya prison. Meanwhile Jeryes Talli (1992), Numan Abdo (1992), Ammar Riziq (1990), Mahmoud Issa (1992) and Mazen Shamsein (1990) are all reported to be suffering health problems.
650 prisoners, who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood left in prison, according to their Amman-based leader Mohammad Ali Bayanoni in a statement lately.
A faction of the traditionally peaceful Muslim Brotherhood adopted a jihad “or holy war” to topple the Syrian regime. The trend was led first by Marwan Hadid in 1964, which caused the Baath-led Syrian government to crack down on the movement in the early 1980, after Ibrahim Al Yussef massacred 36 army cadets in Aleppo. Hadid died after a long hunger strike at the Mazzeh prison in Damascus.
When President Bashar Assad assumed power in June, he began to receive messages through the media from the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in exile wooing the new leader to join a national reconciliation.
The new approach by the leading Islamist opposition group was seen as an important development, and it is said to have led to the announced amnesty.
The second powerful Islamic group in Syria is the Tahrir (Liberation) Party, which believes in reaching power through coup d'état. The Syrian authorities cracked down on them in 1998 and arrested 800 members, including an officer in the Syrian army.
Most prominent among the Tahrir Party’s jailed members is Sameer Hassan, who headed the November 23 organization, and was arrested in 1990.
Detainees from the Islamic Tawhid movement were also covered by the amnesty. Headed by Hashem Manara, the Lebanese faction carried out military operations against the Syrian troops in Lebanon and tried to extend its presence to Syria.
According to the prohibited pro-Iraq Baath Party, there are still 500 prisoners in Syrian jails who were arrested for belonging to the prohibited opposition group. Some leaders of the party were released two years ago after being accused of masterminding military operations and assassinations of Syrian officials.
The last political amnesty in Syria was granted in 1995 to 1,200 people, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Last month some 100 Syrian intellectuals issued a call for the release of political prisoners and an end to martial law and emergency measures in force since 1963.
and proposed legislation that would give a general amnesty for a broader range of crimes, the official press reported Thursday.
"The approximately 600 political prisoners belong to various political movements," the ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper reported, without identifying those groups or saying whether the prisoners had already been freed.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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