Parliament to discuss law cancelling debtors’ imprisonment



Fri, 20 Jul 2018 - 09:53 GMT


Fri, 20 Jul 2018 - 09:53 GMT

FILE - Egyptian Parliament- Egypt Today

FILE - Egyptian Parliament- Egypt Today

CAIRO – 20 July 2018: A joint committee formed of different Parliamentarian committees including Defense and National Security, and Constitutional and Legislation Affairs committees are preparing to study a draft law introduced by dozens of Parliament members that suggests involving debtors in community service as an alternative penalty to imprisonment.

According to the draft law, the prison punishment a debtor faces would be replaced with community service, away from the prison, based on the Judge’s perspective and opinion whether the defendant is legally defined as a debtor.

The work places, job description, working hours, grants and punishments would be determined by the prime minister or the concerned minister acting on his behalf, with respect to the debtor’s age.

The defendant has the right to appeal against the judge’s decision based on the constitutional laws.

The law also exempts the debtors from facing normal legal consequences meted out by the Egyptian penal code, including being fired from public jobs and being placed under police observation. The debtor would be able to be a witness before the court during his/her sentence.

The interior minister would be tasked with issuing the executive regulations of the law within three months after it is promulgated. The law will be published subsequently in Egypt’s Official Gazette.

Releasing debtors

A total of 405 prisoners were released on June 21, per a presidential pardon, while 478 others were granted a conditional release.

On June 15, a total of 2,110 prisoners were released per the same presidential pardon that was issued on the occasion of Eid Al-Fitr (Religious feast marking the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan).

The June 15 batch of released prisoners further included 690 debtors, as part of a presidential initiative, called “Prisons without Debtors”, that aims to release all debtors landing behind bars by paying off their debts.

“We will always strive to uphold the human dignity and implement the necessary measures to preserve social protection and reduce such phenomena that negatively affect social stability,” President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi said on his official Facebook account.

Replacing imprisonment penalty

Tens of thousands of poor Egyptian women spend years in jails for borrowing money they could not pay back.

The majority of these women have debts of not more than $1,000, commonly after falling behind on repayments for domestic items, such as fridges or furniture. Each debt is given a separate penalty by the court, so they could be imprisoned for more than 30 years.

Journalist Nawal Mostafa, head of the Children of Female Prisoners Association (CFPA), stated that the association is working to amend Clause 341 of the Criminal Law, which stipulates that “the crime is registered as 'Betrayal to Municipality', which could be explained as a receipt given out without the amount available to pay.”

She also called for substituting the imprisonment punishment of the debtors with civil service, pointing out that the cost of maintenance of the lives of these women debtors inside the prison is high, particularly with the increasing number of prisoners.

She also indicated that the period of the sentence may turn into a training period for the prisoner through public service works, such as cleaning, public hospital services or handicrafts, which will benefit the convicted after the term of the sentence.

“The debtors are not criminals. They are very much full-fledged humans and citizens, and have the right to social participation,” MP Elizabeth Shaker stated in a press statement in January, adding that the bill does not apply to repeat offenders.

“The stories of Egyptian mothers who end up being in prison because of them being the sole breadwinner of the family and hence not able to pay their debts for small infractions are repeatedly recurrent. They are victims, not criminals,” Shaker added.

According to the current penal code, debtors may face up to three years of imprisonment. Debtors must pay their fines or convince the traders to pardon them to be freed.



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