DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday issued decrees ending nearly five decades of emergency law, abolishing state security courts and allowing citizens to protest peacefully, state television reported.
The announcements made successively in news flashes on state television said Assad was ending the emergency law imposed when the ruling Baath Party seized power in 1963 as well as the state security courts.
A third decree said citizens would be granted "the right to peacefully demonstrate" and noted that this is one of the "basic human rights guaranteed by the Syrian constitution."
The decree issued by Assad would "regulate" that right to demonstrate.
The moves are aimed at placating more than a month of unprecedented protests across Syria.
Amnesty International says about 220 people have been killed in the crackdown on the protests, which first erupted in the capital Damascus on March 15.
The emergency law restricts many civil liberties, including public gatherings and freedom of movement, and allows the "arrest of anyone suspected of posing a threat to security."
A day after the cabinet approved a bill to rescind the state of emergency, Al-Watan newspaper close to Assad reported Wednesday that the president would bypass parliament to fast-track the lifting of emergency rule.
The state security court exists outside the ordinary judicial system and usually prosecutes people considered to challenge the authority of the government, and its verdicts cannot be appealed.
Human rights groups both inside and outside Syria have repeatedly urged the authorities to scrap the feared court, described in a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch as a "kangaroo court."
"The state security court is one of Syria's main pillars of repression," the HRW's Sarah Leah Whitson said in the 2009 report entitled "Far from Justice: Syria's Supreme State Security Court."
"It's a kangaroo court providing judicial cover for the persecution of activists, and even ordinary citizens, by Syria's security agencies.
"Defendants have no chance of defending themselves, much less proving their innocence against the bogus charges brought against them," she said.