Assad is refusing to free Syrian prisoners despite the risks associated with the coronavirus infections, and despite an amnesty he issued on March 22. According to activists, there is genuine fear of mass infections if the new coronavirus spreads through its overcrowded jails.
The Assad regime has confirmed only 19 cases of infection from the global pandemic, with two deaths. Many stories of the regime muzzling doctors have surfaced over the past two weeks. Syria, with a health system ravaged by civil war, many experts fear the country is incapable of containing the coronavirus.
The United Nations envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, last week pointed to the risk of COVID-19 racing through the country’s prisons. He urged quick action to free prisoners.
So far, only few hundred people jailed for common crimes had been released; mostly on an amnesty announced back in September. Many consider it a token gesture to deflect calls on Damascus to follow the lead of other states, including its close ally Iran. The terrible Iranian regime of Khamenei has already freed 85,000 prisoners from its crowded jails. Of course, on a temporary basis.
Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), told Reuters:
The Syrian regime seeks to circumvent the pressures it is facing from organizations and states that fear the spread of COVID-19 in the ranks of detainees.
He said none of those Assad freed were civic activists or others among the tens of thousands of political prisoners detained since the outbreak of Syria’s conflict, which began with peaceful protests against Assad’s brutal rule.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said:
In Syrian prisons and detention centres, COVID-19 could spread quickly due to poor sanitation, lack of access to clean water and severe overcrowding.
Syrian state media have not reported how many prisoners they released so far. State judges have said the aim is to ease prisoner numbers. SNHR said those released the Assad regime had convicted of crimes including smuggling and forgery.
SNHR said it documented 665 arbitrary arrests, 116 deaths under torture and 232 releases since the September amnesty.
U.N. investigators and Western human rights activists say the Syrian authorities have arrested and tortured tens of thousands of people since the conflict began in 2011.
A U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry said in a 2018 report the whereabouts of these detainees remains unknown and unacknowledged by the state. It said these civilians “have been disappeared” and many may no longer be alive.
The Assad government denies holding prisoners of conscience and torturing detainees to death in secret security prisons. The same way it denied it gassed women and children some 300 times. And the same way Putin denies Russia dopes its athletes.
Syria’s prisons include facilities run by security agencies that authorities deny exist. In these prisons, denial of medical care is part of a widespread policy of torture. This according to Sara Kayyali, Syria specialist with Human Rights Watch (HRW).
ASSAD WANTS PRISONERS TO PERISH FROM CORONAVIRUS
She expressed particular fear for detainees in such jails.
I won’t impose any intent on the Syrian government, but imagine you have an infected prison population of people they already want to get rid of for expressing opposition to the government?
Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 people from jail to halt the virus spread. They include political prisoners.
In North Africa, Tunisia has freed 1,420 prisoners and Morocco 5,654, citing efforts to stop the virus. Algeria pardoned 5,037 but without explicitly linking its move to the pandemic.
The exception is Syria where the monster Assad decides how much a Syrian life is worth.
Reuters contributed to this article.