Tunisia overturns one-year compulsory jail term for cannabis

Tunisia overturns one-year compulsory jail term for cannabis
2 min read
17 March, 2017
The Tunisian parliament, supported by the country's president, voted to overturn law 52, which had placed thousands of young people in jail.
The law disproportionately affects young people in Tunisia [Corbis]

Tunisia has repealed a controversial law which gave out a mandatory jail sentence of one year for the use of narcotics.

Law 52, which dates back to the Ben Ali regime, was overturned so that judges can issue pardons to first-time users to avoid jail terms.

"It was not logical to tie the hands of the judges by not allowing them to take extenuating circumstances into account," said Yosra Frawes of the International Federation for Human Rights.

The new legal guidelines will come into force on Tunisia's Independence Day next week.

The law was considered controversial as it led to the widespread incarceration of thousands of young people, criminalising those who might otherwise have been positive influences on society.

Before Tunisia's 2011 revolution, the law was used to suppress criticism and dissidence against the Ben Ali regime.

Cannabis use has since become widespread, with thousands of young Tunisians locked up each year as a result.

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of trials under Law 52 shot up from 732 to 5,744, official figures show.

The backdown has mobilised public opinion against the drugs law, gathered around the "Sajin 521" (Prisoner 52) movement.

President Beji Caid Essebsi, who is aged 90, is also an advocate for reform.

"We must not wreck young people's future," he told a group of foreign students last week.

Yassine Brahim, leader of liberal centre-right party Afek Tounes, has warned that convicted youths - in a country struggling to redress its economy and faced with jihadist threats - risked radicalisation behind bars.

On the Islamist side of Tunisian politics, Lotfi Zitoun has joined the clamour against Law 52.

The numbers are "crazy: almost a third of the prisons' population is made up of young Tunisians who used illicit substances.

"Among them are students, pupils, our children," Zitoun, who is close to Rashed Ghannouchi, leader of the powerful Islamist movement Ennahdha, told a forum.