Wildfires that swept through Syria last year were intentionally lit, and now 24 individuals linked to setting them have been executed, per the country's Ministry of Justice. Al Jazeera notes that while executions aren't uncommon in Syria, so many being killed at once is unusual. It's not clear where the executions happened or how they were carried out. Those put to death weren't accused of arson but of "terrorist acts that led to death and damage to state infrastructure and public and private property through the use of flammable material," the ministry noted in its statement.
CNN reports four other individuals who were tied to the fires were given temporary hard-labor stints, while nearly a dozen more were sentenced to life doing the same, per the ministry. Five underage perpetrators also received jail time, with sentences of up to 12 years. The ministry says the perpetrators admitted planning and setting the fires, which started in August 2020 and continued "intermittently" through October last year. They burned through hundreds of towns in three provinces, killing three and damaging nearly 400 homes. The blazes also charred more than 25,000 acres of land and damaged farm equipment, livestock, and infrastructure. The suspects were IDed and arrested last year.
Human rights activists are "shocked" by the severity of the punishment, reports the New York Times. "The idea that 24 people were executed in relation to wildfires just smacks of the farce that [President] Bashar al-Assad has made of the justice system over the last decade," says Sara Kayyali of Human Rights Watch. She notes that those accused of terrorism are often just people who oppose the government, and they're sent to a special court where they're pressured to confess to their alleged crimes and aren't given adequate legal representation. "We have seen the counterterrorism law and this court be used to stifle dissent, to send hundreds of people to their deaths," Kayyali says. (Read more Syria stories.)