Treatment of former political prisoners; prisoners covered by the amnesty of 1995; whether there have been amnesties other than that of December 1995; whether former prisoners have been denied passports; whether there are restrictions on their civil liberties (1995-2001) [SYR36339.E]

In a report published in 1996, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated the following concerning the release of political prisoners in Syria in 1995:

In December 1995, some 1,200 political prisoners in Syria were released pursuant to an amnesty marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the rule of president Hafez al-Asad, and additional prisoner releases were under consideration. It was widely reported that most, if not all, of the released prisoners were members or supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Dr. Hasan al-Huwaydi, a Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader based in Jordan, estimated the number of released prisoners at 1,500, although he noted in December 1995 that the group did not receive official lists of those released and that its statistics were incomplete (Apr. 1996).

Country Reports 1999, quoting Amnesty International reported that releases of prisoners took place in 1995, 1998 and 1999 (2000, Section d).

For information on the release of political prisoners in Syria in 1998, see SYR31471.E of 17 March 1999.

In their report for 1999, the Committees for the Defence of Human Rights in Syria (Comités pour la défense des droits de l'homme et des libertés démocratiques en Syrie, CDF), a Syrian human rights organization based in Paris, stated that in 1999, there were several special amnesties which benefited prisoners (Feb. 2000). The most important one took place in July (ibid.). In its World Report 1999, Human Rights Watch gave the following information on the 1999 July amnesty:

On July 12, President Asad issued Legislative Decree No. 3 of 1999, which granted a general amnesty for persons charged or convicted of a wide variety of offenses, ranging from misdemeanors to military desertion, foreign currency violations, hoarding or speculating in subsidized food, and other economic offenses. The state-owned daily Tishrin initially reported on July 13 that the amnesty would apply to tens of thousands of citizens. On July 14, the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat said it covered some 2,200 people imprisoned for "economic crimes" and that another 150,000 cases before the courts for "hoarding-related offenses" would be dropped. Syrian justice minister Hussein Hassoun told the press on July 19 that certain so-called economic offenses were anachronistic: "We think that the sentences imposed by these laws [on economic crimes] are severe and that the amnesty complements the economic opening under way." Syrian officials told Agence France-Presse on July 19 that "more than 200,000 cases" were included in the amnesty, and officials who requested anonymity added that about 250 political prisoners would be released. The decree reportedly also applied to cases that had been tried in absentia, and media reports noted that a committee had been organized to prepare lists of the amnesty's beneficiaries. In September, a report from the Gulf Center for Strategic Studies, published in Bahrain's daily Akhbar al-Khaleej , said that 300 political prisoners were released in the amnesty, most of them members of the Muslim Brotherhood. As of this writing, only a few unconfirmed names of released political prisoners were circulating (Dec. 1999).

Between July and December 1999, according to the CDF, 150 prisoners were released, most of whom had been accused of being members of "'Muslim Brotherhood'" and sentenced to prison by the State Security Court (Feb. 2000). Others had been accused of belonging to nationalist and democratic parties (ibid.).

HRW listed the following releases of prisoners in 2000:

Two members of the Communist Action Party, Fateh Jamus and Abd al-Karim Aslan, who had served sixteen and eighteen-year terms, respectively, were reported released prior to Hafez al-Asad's death. There were reports that sixteen Jordanian political detainees were freed in March, and another seventeen during the next several months, and three members of the Muslim Brotherhood were released in May. Syrian political exiles confirmed that "dozens" of political detainees were released in June and July, including thirty members of the Muslim Brotherhood; three Jordanians, including Khalid Awad who had served twelve years on political charges; journalist Faisal Allush from the Communist Action Party, who was released after fifteen years in prison; and two members of the Tawhid movement, military commander Samir al-Hassan and Lebanese Sunni activist Hashim Minkara, freed after serving fifteen years (Dec. 2000).

In November 2000, Syrian authorities released 600 political prisoners (EMHRN 29 Nov. 2000; AI 16 Nov. 2000). The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) specified that on 16 November 2000: "the Syrian authorities...announced an amnesty which orders the release of 201 persons from the Islamic Liberation Party, 270 members and sympathisers of the Muslim Brotherhood, 25 prisoners from the leftist parties and two members of the Committees for the Defence of Human Rights in Syria (CDF)" (ibid.). This announcement came after the release of prisoners which took place in July, May and April 2000, according to the EMHRN (ibid.).

In a report published in 1995, HRW stated that formers prisoners in Syria had not been able to leave the country because the authorities rejected their passport applications without giving an explanation (July 1995). Country Reports 1999 stated the following concerning civil rights of former prisoners in Syria:

Persons who have been convicted by the State Security Court may be deprived of their political rights after they are released from prison. Such restrictions include a prohibition against engaging in political activity, the denial of a passport, and a bar on accepting a government job and some other forms of employment. The duration of such restrictions may last from 10 years to the remainder of the former prisoner's life. The Government contends that this practice is mandated by the Penal Code and has been in effect since 1949 (2000, Section e).

However, the EMHRN mentioned in a press release that a former prisoner and President of CDF, Aktham Nyasse, was granted permit to leave Syria in order to receive medical treatment in Europe (29 Nov. 2000).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Amnesty International (AI). 16 November 2000. "Syria: Amnesty International Welcomes the Release of Political Prisoners." [Accessed 7 Feb. 2001]

Committees for the Defence of Human Rights in Syria (CDF), Paris. February 2000. Rapport annuel 1999. [Accessed 5 Feb. 2001]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. 2000. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 5 Feb. 2001]

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), Copenhagen, Denmark. 29 November 2000. "600 Political Prisoners to be Released in Syria". [Accessed 5 Feb. 2001]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). December 2000. World Report 2001: Syria. [Accessed 5 Feb. 2001]

_____. December 1999. World Report 2000: Syria. [Accessed 5 Feb. 2001]

____. 1996. Vol.8, No. 2. Syria's Tadmor Prison: Dissent Still Hostage to a Legacy of Terror. [Accessed 5 Feb. 2001]

_____. July 1995. Vol. 7, No. 4. Syria: The Price of Dissent. [Accessed 5 Feb. 2001]