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Syria frees hundreds of prisoners for Eid

Most of the prisoners released on Friday were involved in protests against the Syrian government
Syrians inspect the area amid the ruins of buildings destroyed when Syrian government forces attacked with barrel bombs in Aleppo on 16 July 2015 (AA)

Syrian authorities have released more than 200 prisoners, many of whom were detained under “anti-terror” laws, to mark the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Dozens of women were among the 240 detainees who were released on Friday, said attorney and leading human rights activist Michel Shammas.

Most of the prisoners in Syrian jails being prosecuted under “anti-terror” laws are opponents of the Syrian government or those who have taken part in the uprising that began in March 2011.

“Syrian authorities released more than 240 prisoners from Adra prison (near Damascus), most of whom were tried before what is known as the anti-terrorism court,” Shammas told AFP late Friday.

The laws, which were passed in July 2012, were condemned by Human Rights Watch as using vague provisions to convict peaceful activists on charges of aiding terrorists in trials that violate basic due process rights.

Two years ago, the deputy Middle East director at HRW Nadim Houry slammed the legitimacy of the “anti-terror” laws.

“The government may have a new counterterrorism law, but there is nothing legal about trying peaceful activists without fair trial safeguards for acts that should never be considered crimes in the first place,” he said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, reported about the prisoner releases, but put the number of those released at around 350.

The monitor said most of them were people who had been arrested at anti-government demonstrations.

Among those freed was prominent Syrian blogger Hussein Ghreir, who was arrested in February 2012 along with fellow activists Mazen Darwish and Hani Zaitani and accused of “promoting terrorism acts.”

A friend of Ghreir’s, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the blogger was “at his home in Damascus and is in good health.”

According to the Observatory, some 200,000 people are being detained by government forces in Syria in detention centres, prisons and security facilities.

Among them are thousands of people who have effectively disappeared since being detained, with their families unsure where they are being held.

The Observatory also reported that 13,000 Syrians, including dozens of children, have been tortured to death in government prisons since March 2011.

Last year, President Bashar al-Assad signed an amnesty that was supposed to see tens of thousands of political prisoners freed, but rights activists say that only several hundred were actually released.