Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] Tuesday granted amnesty for "crimes" committed before June 20 during the protests that began earlier this year, according to a decree [text] published in Syrian state media. Minister of Justice Judge Tayseer Qala Awwad said the decree pardons those serving sentences who are suffering with terminal illnesses except for serious crimes such as smuggling arms and narcotics. However, Awwad said that some of the most serious felonies against individuals and society were not covered in the pardon. Also, the amnesty does not apply to cases where there is a private prosecution or personal claim against individual. This is the second amnesty decree al-Assad has issued in the past three weeks in attempt to defuse the now 13-week uprising pushing for al-Assad to either institute reforms or step down. On Tuesday, tens of thousands took part in pro-government rallies [Daily Mail report] in Syrian cities, but critics claimed that the rallies were composed of government service workers forced to attend wearing civilian clothing.
On Monday, al-Assad made a much-hyped speech [JURIST report] at Damascus University where he announced that he would soon introduce reforms and present a new constitution, but he spent much of the speech claiming that the protests were part of a conspiracy against Syria. He contends that a group of terrorists is responsible for the vandalism, robberies and murders that have taken place since protests erupted in the country early this year, and said that he planned to prosecute and hold those individuals accountable. Earlier this month, al-Assad granted amnesty to political prisoners [JURIST report] including all members of the previously banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) [party website; JURIST news archive]. But opposition leaders dismissed the move and met in Turkey to discuss Syria's future. Syria has come under international scrutiny for using force to suppress the protests across the country. Earlier this month, the UN expressed concern over violence in Syria and urged the Syrian government to stop using force against protesters. Also, Syrian and international human rights groups urged [JURIST report] the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to investigate the hundreds of civilian deaths during protests against al-Assad.Nearly 1,200 people have been killed and 10,000 displaced since protests erupted in February.