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Syria president reduces prison sentences of rebel fighters

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] issued a decree Tuesday reducing prison terms by three quarters for some members of rebel forces. The decree, announced by the state news agency SANA [media website], has been condemned [Reuters report] by activists for doing nothing to free thousands of political prisoners arrested by the Syrian government both before and during the current Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder]. Activists claim that tens of thousands of political prisoners including women and children are being held by the Syrian government.

The Syrian government has been battling opposition forces since the first protests against the Assad regime began over two years ago. Last week Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] accused the Syrian Air Force of deliberately targeting civilians in air strikes [JURIST report]. This followed a March HRW report finding that Syria's military is using widely-banned cluster munitions [JURIST report] against civilians. In February the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] said that the death toll resulting from two years of armed conflict in Syria was approaching 70,000 [JURIST report]. In January more than 50 countries asked the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria [JURIST report] to the International Criminal Court. A study carried out by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] reported in January that the average number of deaths per month has increased significantly [JURIST report] since the summer of 2011, where the average was approximately 1,000 per month, to an average of 5,000 deaths per month since July 2012.

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