Syria opposition says amnesty offer not enough

AFP , Wednesday 1 Jun 2011

A commission is appointed to investigate the torture and death of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib as President Bashar al-Assad offers political prisoners amnesty

Syria
Body of a protester after being attacked in Syrian protest hub Daraa, (Reuters).

Syrian opposition groups dismissed as not enough an amnesty for political prisoners decreed by President Bashar al-Assad after two months of protests and bloodshed, as they gathered in Turkey on Wednesday to plan their next step.

Former colonial ruler France said Damascus authorities needed to take a much bolder change of direction after at least 1,000 deaths in the crackdown on generally unarmed demonstrators. Washington demanded that Assad call a halt to the violence against his own people.

Syrian state television said an investigation had been launched into the death of a 13-year-old boy who was allegedly tortured and killed by security forces in Daraa, south of Damascus.

The US-based Human Rights Watch meanwhile prepared to release a report detailing a raft of abuses in that flashpoint region.

Syria's official SANA news agency said the amnesty for political prisoners would extend to the Muslim Brotherhood, membership of which has been punishable by death in Syria since it led a bloody uprising against the rule of the current president's father Hafez al-Assad in the 1980s.

"President Assad has by decree issued an amnesty on all (political) crimes committed before May 31, 2011," SANA reported. "The amnesty applies to all political prisoners as well as to the Muslim Brotherhood."

Opposition activists, gathered in the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya, shrugged off the amnesty announcement. "This measure is insufficient: we demanded this amnesty several years ago, but it's late in coming," said Abdel Razak Eid, an activist from the Damascus Declaration, a reformist group launched in 2005 to demand democratic change.

"We are united under the slogan: the people want the fall of the regime and all those who have committed crimes brought to account," he said.

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood delegation at the Antalya meeting, Melhem al-Durubi, said: "The Brotherhood joins with the Syrian people in calling for the fall of the regime."

Syrian state television said the interior ministry had appointed a commission to investigate the death of Hamza al-Khatib, 13, after pro-democracy activists set up a Facebook page and called for fresh protests in his memory.

The Facebook site, Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force behind the anti-government protests, said Hamza's body was returned to his family last week following his disappearance after a demonstration in Daraa on April 29.

"There were a few bullets in his body used as a way of torture rather than to kill him with. Clear signs of severe physical abuse appeared on the body such as marks done with hands, sticks, and shoes. Hamza’s penis was also cut off," the Facebook site said.

HRW said its report showed abuses in Daraa region were "not only systematic but implemented as part of a state policy" and likely to "qualify as crimes against humanity."
The amnesty announcement came shortly after a senior official in Syria's ruling Baath party reportedly said that a committee for national dialogue would be set up within 48 hours.

Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, quoted party number two Mohammed Said Bkhetan as saying the committee members would be wide-ranging.
But the opposition has repeatedly insisted that dialogue can only take place once the violence ends, political prisoners are freed and reforms adopted.

The government insists the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Assad had still not done enough. "He has not called an end to the violence against his own people, and he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts," Clinton said.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe demanded "more ambitious and bolder" action from Syria. "I fear that it might already be too late," he told France Culture radio.
"There have been at least 1,000 deaths, perhaps more. There must be a much clearer change of direction, more ambitious and bolder than a mere amnesty."

Australia said it had extended sanctions against Assad's inner circle to more individuals associated with the president and urged the United Nations to consider referring him to the International Criminal Court.

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