Syria: 24 people executed over forest fires – state media

Image copyright AFP Image caption The group of 24 faced a firing squad in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province

A court in Syria has executed 24 people for arson, state media has reported.

The same court had sentenced 21 people in September to death for lighting more than 150 wildfires across the country in the summer of 2016.

The September executions caused international outrage.

More than 200 people are known to have been killed by wildfires in Syria and neighbouring countries.

Officials in the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, near the Iraqi border, confirmed the latest execution and accused the defendants of arson for the fourth time since the incident.

“The accused were tried and convicted for setting fires that affected large areas of forests and wildlife, particularly in Deir Ezzor,” a local official, Abu Muamad al-Takrr, told state TV.

Trying the offenders five times, as happened in September 2016, resulted in the same result, he said.

The defendants were charged with killing wildlife for hunting purposes and burning forests for harvest.

They were sentenced to death by firing squad in November 2016, and the prosecution called for it to be carried out on 16 December 2016. The verdict was then extended by three months.

The sequence of similar executions happened over the course of 18 months between the third quarter of 2016 and late last year.

Syrian activists, journalists and families of prisoners in a number of countries campaigned against the sentences.

Syria’s foreign ministry insisted on 31 December that the executions were carried out according to the law.

Image copyright AFP Image caption The suspects were accused of burning down tens of thousands of hectares (acres) of vegetation

Hilal Khashan, a political analyst, said the prosecutions suggested the firefighting effort was compromised by corruption.

“Fires began and continued for a short period and due to severe negligence, the prime minister was aware of their increasing trend, although they didn’t act,” he told AFP news agency.

In October 2017, an Islamist group claimed responsibility for setting at least 15 fires near the Lebanese border, in a bid to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

They said the small fires were to “caution citizens in areas which were on fire during Ramadan”.

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