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Lebanese Judicial Measures to Ease Pressure on Overcrowded Prisons

Lebanese Judicial Measures to Ease Pressure on Overcrowded Prisons

Saturday, 28 March, 2020 - 11:15
File photo of the overcrowded Roumieh prison, in Lebanon, April 2016. AFP Photo/ Ramzi Haidar

The Lebanese judiciary has taken decisions to ease pressure on the country's overcrowded prisons and put in place mechanisms to deter the spread of the coronavirus.

With the difficulty of transferring detainees from prisons to the relevant courts for questioning, the judiciary, in cooperation with the Bar Associations in Beirut and North Lebanon, speeded up the pace of investigations, by interrogating the detainees through virtual platforms.

Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the judiciary wanted to achieve justice and law enforcement, and reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus in the overcrowded prisons.

Asked whether this measure would compensate for the general amnesty demanded by the prisoners, the judicial sources said: “The general amnesty requires a political decision by the government and parliament.”

“The judiciary, which is aware of the seriousness of the situation, cannot stand idle while awaiting such a decision; rather, its duty is to balance between achieving justice and reducing the risk of contamination,” they added.

The head of the Bar Association in the North, Mohammad Mrad, explained that the new mechanisms, implemented by the Beirut and the North Bar Associations, would protect the detainees, the security forces, and the administrative team inside prisons.

“The Prison Committee of the Bar Association in Tripoli turned into an emergency cell, and began receiving dozens of requests for the release of detainees, whether by fax or by sending lawyers to prisons, and transferring those requests to the appropriate judicial authorities,” he said.

“We see positive cooperation in this regard,” he added, noting that 25 detainees were released on Friday and that mechanisms were put in place to receive similar requests via a call center.

He added that these measures could lead to the release of about 200 detainees from Tripoli Prison, meaning 15-20 percent of its inmates.

Those procedures, however, do not satisfy those accused of major crimes.

Lawyer Mohamed Sablouh, the defense attorney for most Islamic detainees, considered that the recent decisions were limited to those convicted of minor crimes.

“The release of detainees does not include those held on trial by the military court, who constitute the most oppressed category among the prisoners,” he underlined, adding: “These measures are good and may temporarily reduce overcrowding in prisons; but they cannot replace a comprehensive and fair general amnesty.”

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