US embassy cable - 92DAMASCUS8730

ASAD GRANTS AMNESTY FOR 540 POLITICAL PRISONERS

Identifier: 92DAMASCUS8730
Wikileaks: View 92DAMASCUS8730 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 1992-12-01 15:00:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: PHUM PGOV PINS SY
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 011500Z DEC 92
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4513
INFO AMEMBASSY AMMAN
AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
AMEMBASSY CAIRO
AMEMBASSY RIYADH
AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
AMEMBASSY TUNIS
AMEMBASSY LONDON
AMEMBASSY PARIS
USMISSION GENEVA
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW

UNCLAS DAMASCUS 08730 
 
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE 
 
STATE FOR HA, NEA/ARN 
LONDON FOR JOHNSON 
PARIS FOR ROSENBLATT 
 
MOSCOW FOR NEA A/S DJEREJIAN 
 
E.O. 12356:  N/A 
TAGS:  PHUM, PGOV, PINS, SY 
SUBJECT:  ASAD GRANTS AMNESTY FOR 540 POLITICAL PRISONERS 
 
1.  SYRIAN PRESIDENT ASAD HAS ISSUED A DECREE GRANTING 
AN AMNESTY TO 540 PRISONERS HELD ON "SECURITY" GROUNDS, 
ACCORDING TO THE MAIN NEWS BULLETIN ON GOVERNMENT- 
CONTROLLED DAMASCUS RADIO AT 1415 LOCAL TIME, DECEMBER 
1.  THE BRIEF BULLETIN DID NOT ELABORATE ON THE 
IDENTITIES OF THE PRISONERS, THE NATURE OF THEIR 
OFFENSES, OR THE OCCASION FOR THE PRESIDENT'S DECISION. 
 
2.  IN A RELATED MATTER, WE NOTE FROM THE NOVEMBER 27 
EDITION OF THE FRENCH LANGUAGE LEBANESE NEWSPAPER 
"L'ORIENT-LE JOUR" THAT SYRIAN EX-PRESIDENT NUR AL-DIN 
AL-ATASI (WHO WAS PRESIDENT WHEN ASAD SEIZED POWER IN 
1970) REPORTEDLY ARRIVED IN PARIS BY PRIVATE PLANE FROM 
DAMASCUS A FEW DAYS EARLIER TO BEGIN TREATMENT AT THE 
AMERICAN HOSPITAL IN NEUILLY OF CANCER OF THE 
ESOPHAGUS.  AL-ATASI WAS FREED ON MEDICAL GROUNDS IN 
LATE AUGUST.  UNTIL RECENTLY A SYRIAN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP 
BASED IN PARIS ALLEGED THAT THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT WAS 
HINDERING AL-ATASI'S FAMILY'S EFFORTS TO TRANSPORT HIM 
TO PARIS (A CHARGE DENIED AT THE TIME BY AN MFA 
OFFICIAL). 
 
3.  COMMENT:  AMONG THE POSSIBLE REASONS FOR THIS LATEST 
RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS IS THE 22ND ANNIVERSARY 
OF THE "CORRECTIONIST MOVEMENT" COUP THAT BROUGHT ASAD 
TO POWER.  ALTHOUGH THAT ANNIVERSARY ACTUALLY FELL ON 
NOVEMBER 16, A LAG OF TWO WEEKS WOULD FOLLOW THE PATTERN 
OF PREVIOUS RELEASES (THE LATE MARCH RELEASE WAS 
ANNOUNCED TWO WEEKS AFTER ASAD'S SWEARING-IN TO A FOURTH 
TERM IN OFFICE, WHILE LAST DECEMBER'S AMNESTY WAS 
PUBLICIZED TWO WEEKS AFTER THE PRESIDENTIAL 
REFERENDUM).  IT IS ALSO POSSIBLE THAT THESE RELEASES 
ARE RELATED TO SESSIONS OF THE STATE SECURITY COURT THAT 
HAVE BEEN UNDERWAY FOR SOME TIME TO DETERMINE THE 
SENTENCES FOR POLITICAL DETAINEES WHO HAD NOT PREVIOUSLY 
BEEN BROUGHT TO TRIAL. 
 
4.  COMMENT CONTINUED:  THIS LATEST AMNESTY FOLLOWS THE 
APPEARANCE IN THE NOVEMBER 29 EDITION OF THE OFFICIAL 
NEWSPAPER "AL-BA'TH" OF AN EDITORIAL WRITTEN BY VICE 
PRESIDENT MASHARQA CHIDING WESTERN GOVERNMENTS FOR THEIR 
CRITICISMS OF SYRIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD.  MASHARQA 
ACCUSED THESE GOVERNMENTS OF APPLYING DOUBLE STANDARDS 
IN JUDGING THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATIONS IN OTHER 
COUNTRIES WHILE IGNORING PROBLEMS (LIKE RACIAL 
DISCRIMINATION) IN THEIR OWN COUNTRIES OR IN "RACIST 
COUNTRIES, ESPECIALLY ISRAEL AND SOUTH AFRICA."  AS FOR 
HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS, MASHARQA COMPLAINED THAT 
THESE GROUPS FAIL TO PAY ATTENTION TO "ISRAELI CRIMES." 
HE CONCLUDED THAT "THE MOTIVE BEHIND THE STANDS OF MOST 
WESTERN STATES AND THEIR ORGANIZATIONS ON THE ISSUE OF 
HUMAN RIGHTS IS TO PUT PRESSURE ON COUNTRIES WHOSE 
POLICIES ARE GOVERNED BY NATIONAL OR PAN-ARAB INTERESTS 
WHICH ARE NOT HARMONIOUS WITH THEIR PURPOSES AND 
INTERESTS."  WHILE THE DECISION TO LET AL-ATASI GO TO 
PARIS APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN MADE QUIETLY TO SATISFY 
EXTERNAL CRITICS, ASAD IS TRYING NOT TO LOOK LIKE HE 
YIELDED TO INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE WITH RESPECT TO THE 
AMNESTY.  MASHARQA'S TOUGH PUBLIC STANCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS 
BEFORE THESE RELEASES ECHOES THE ONE ASAD USED IN HIS 
MARCH 14 INAUGURATION SPEECH, WHICH CAME TWO WEEKS 
BEFORE THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF A SIMILAR AMNESTY. 
 
ROSS 

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