Syria’s embattled president, Bashar Assad, issued a general amnesty for criminals Tuesday ahead of the country’s holiday marking the anniversary of the 1946 withdrawal of French troops.
According to the state-run SANA news agency, “President Assad has issued decree number 23, granting a general amnesty for crimes committed before April 16, 2013.” It added that “Syrians who joined a terrorist organization will only have to serve a quarter of their sentences.”
Under the decree, “the death penalty will be replaced with a life sentence of hard labor,” the agency said in a statement.
“The decision does not apply to those who avoided conscription,” the text added.
Assad has issued several pardons, including for those convicted of acts against the state, during the two-year crisis, usually ahead of national holidays.
Syria’s uprising began in March 2011 and has since turned into a civil war that has killed over 70,000 people, according to the UN.
On Wednesday, the pro-regime Syrian channel al-Ikhbariya is due to air an interview with Assad at 21:30 pm local time (18:30 GMT). The privately owned channel published a photo on its Facebook page showing the president seated in an office with two journalists.
In an interview earlier this month with a Turkish TV channel, Assad accused his neighbors of stoking the revolt against his rule and warned they would eventually pay a heavy price.
“We are surrounded by countries that help terrorists and allow them to enter Syria,” he told the Turkish TV station Ulusal Kanal.
“Everybody knows that if the disturbances in Syria reach the point of the country’s breakup, or terrorist forces control Syria … then this will immediately spill over into neighboring countries and there will be a domino effect that will reach countries across the Middle East,” he said.
AP contributed to this report.