Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] granted amnesty to political prisoners Tuesday including all members of the previously banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) [party website; JURIST news archive], according to a presidential decree [text] published in Syrian state media. The move is seen as an attempt by Assad to defuse the 10-week uprising to overthrow the government. The decree frees all political prisoners whose crimes were committed before May 31, 2011. The amnesty also includes all members of MB and other political movements. The decree seems to have overturned [WSJ report] a law banning MB from the country in 1980. But opposition leaders have dismissed the move [Aljazeera report] and exiled leaders are meeting in Anatalya, Turkey, to discuss the future of the country. The government has reportedly been trying to put down the uprising using military force that has raised concern from human rights groups. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday published a report [text] claiming that the government of Syria is responsible for systematic abuse of its people from the beginning of the uprising on March 18. The report says: "[t]he nature and scale of abuses, which [HRW] research indicates were not only systematic, but implemented as part of a state policy, strongly suggest these abuses qualify as crimes against humanity." HRW called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions and, if necessary, hold Syria accountable in the International Criminal Court [official websites].
Last month, HRW urged Syria to lift the siege [JURIST report] on the town of Daraa and accused Syrian authorities of violating international law in attempting to quell protesters. Movement in and out of Daraa came to a halt almost in April when the Syrian army surrounded the city, cutting electricity, phone lines and Internet services as well as supplies such as food and medicine. In late April, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], in an emergency special session, publicly condemned the violence used by Syrian authorities [JURIST report] against peaceful protesters. Earlier that month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Also in April, Assad ended the country's 48-year-old state of emergency [JURIST report], but protests have continued.