Egypt’s Prisons department announced Wednesday releasing 2,002 prisoners on the first day of Eid al-Fitr – Press photo
CAIRO – 6 June 2019: Not all imprisoned people are criminals; many of the debtors (known in Arabic as Gharimin) are imprisoned only because they are unable to pay off money they had to borrow, usually to spend it on sick parents, or a daughter's marriage, or on hungry children.
“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 recurrent. They are victims, not criminals,” MP Elizabeth Shaker said last year.
Egypt’s Prisons department announced Wednesday releasing 2,002 prisoners on the first day of Eid al-Fitr (the feast of breaking the fast) per a presidential decree, including 126 male debtors and 13 female debtors.
The Ministry of the Interior has coordinated with Tahya Misr (Long Live Egypt Fund), which was established to solve social issues and help implement national projects, to release a group of debtors after intervening to pay their debts.
Houreya Farag, one of the released debtors, said during a celebration to announce the release of some prisoners thanked President "Sisi for paying me EGP 60,000 ($3,575) and releasing me from prison." Farag said she was sentenced to six years in prison, but was released after only three months .
Farag said she borrowed the money to raise up her fatherless children.
A young man was released despite being sentenced for 7 years, over borrowing money to treat his father who was injured in a traffic collision.
The young man was seen strongly hugging his father with tears, while the father saying: "I [caused] him to be imprisoned."
One of the released female debtors said that she has been imprisoned for three months. She explained that she borrowed money to bring up her children, after she was divorced.
Last year, a joint committee formed of different Parliamentarian committees including Defense and National Security, and Constitutional and Legislation Affairs committees announced 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.