What Happened to Asala is What Should Happen Under the Law
Published on Gino's Blog
Original Article here.
The country has been buzzing with the arrest of Egypt-based Syrian singer Asala at the airport for possession of drugs this week. I will not go into the details of what happened, I don’t even know who she is or that she’s famous.
What happened is that she was arrested at the airport for possession of drugs. A few hours later, she was released from custody at the airport after police from the Hbeich precinct interrogated her, and the online Lebanese community went haywire with conspiracy theories.
This is How the Law Should Work
In Lebanon, drug users that are arrested can ask for treatment at the police precinct. The ISF then has to immediately refer them to something called the Addiction Committee. This committee then assesses each case and decides the appropriate treatment. Some people might go get a detox center, others to out-patient rehab centers like Skoun, or to in-patient ones like Oum El Nour.
The point is, those that want to seek treatment are no longer arrested, and released from custody. Asala got that. The other 3599 people that will be arrested this year, probably won’t.
This “wasta” for a star showed us how the law should actually work. However, if you’re a university student caught smoking a joint, or just arousing suspicion you might smoke, you would spend days and weeks before seeing a judge in sub-human detention conditions.
Status of the Addiction Committee
In 2013, the committee was finally appointed, years after the Lebanese parliament ratified the law. Since then, it meets monthly and studies cases. Several people since 2013 have been released from custody, and their records were kept clean after showing intent to get treated.
However, only 3% of total arrests since 2013 actually got to the Addictions Committee. It’s partly because most people don’t even know that’s their right. Another major reason is that most judges outside of Beirut and Mount Lebanon don’t agree on transferring cases of drug users to the committee, which is a shame on Lebanon’s human rights record.
This is unacceptable, yet understandable in Lebanon. The business of catching pot smokers and blackmailing them with bribes is a lucrative one, and one few people dare speak out against.
There is no denying it is a major issue, especially for Lebanon’s youth, who spend years in court for a victimless act, that is not really a crime, while violent thugs roam the streets unchecked, and instead of doing something about it, the Lebanese government just encourages reinstating the death penalty… As if they’d let their own thugs get executed, the same thugs that never go to jail, pay a fine or register their cars. Please…
It’s Time for Change
It’s 2017. I partnered up with Skoun for their #SupportDontPunish campaign. It’s time for change, especially since elections are coming up. There is absolutely no excuse to keep drug policies that are exponentially worse than the adverse effects of addiction. Drugs are a public health issue, not a criminal one. The ones in jail should be the killers of people like Eliane Safatly, who escaped jail because of negligence (or was it?) by the security forces overseeing his arrest and loopholes in our ancient judicial system that relies on faxes and snail mail. The ones in jail shouldn’t be 3500+ young men and women every year. Khlosna ba2a.
Help Skoun advocate for policy change, and help those who need treatment to overcome their addictions.