Syrians in Berlin demand release of loved ones after presidential amnesty

BERLIN: For ten years, Rojin Derki hoped her brother Mohammad was alive and one day released from a Syrian government prison after his arrest in 2012.

But when a presidential decree issued a general amnesty for prisoners last week, she had mixed feelings.

“It’s a bad feeling because you don’t know if he’s still alive, if he’ll be released, or if he’ll remember us,” Derki said, holding a photo of her brother during a sit-in on Saturday in Berlin by tens. of Syrians for political prisoners.

“When my mother heard about the decree, she said ‘even if he doesn’t recognize me, at least I will,'” said Derki, whose brother supported an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

The April 30 amnesty appears to be the first for those detained under a sweeping 2012 counter-terrorism decision, which human rights groups say allowed authorities to detain opposition activists and aid workers.

It has given thousands of Syrian families hope to see their loved ones released after years of detention. But human rights groups say the decree will release only a small proportion of political prisoners held by the government.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), which documents the war from outside Syria, said about 200 people have been released so far since the decree, and the total is unlikely to exceed 1,800.

“The government has 132,000 Syrian citizens (who are being held for political reasons), according to SNHR data, of which 87,000 have disappeared forcibly, meaning they are not included in amnesty decisions,” said SNHR head Fadel Abdul Ghany.

CONFUSION

Derki, along with other Syrians, placed framed photos of their detained relatives in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

They were dissatisfied with the lack of clarity of the decree.

“Like me, all the families here are angry. We don’t know what this amnesty means,” said Yasmin Shabaji, who has not heard anything about her arrested brother and father for nearly a decade.

Ammar Bilal, a member of the law department of the Syrian Ministry of Justice, said it was not possible to determine the number of people affected by the amnesty, adding that the pardon was more extensive than the previous one because there were people who were tried in absentia.

The Syrian Ministry of Justice said all detainees covered by the amnesty would be released consecutively in the coming days, without providing further details.

For Derki, the decree was another way for the Syrian leader to demonstrate his power. “He did this to say to Syrians, ‘I am still here and your sons are still held by me.'”

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