Lawyers: ad­dicts need help not jail

Le­gal pro­fes­sion­als call for change in law

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Is­mail Se­bug­waawo @is­mailsebu

A group of UAE lawyers are call­ing on courts to send drug ad­dicts to re­hab rather than jail­ing them.

Cur­rently, the min­i­mum sen­tence in the UAE for a per­son con­victed of pos­sess­ing drugs is four years in prison.

Judges do have the power to re­fer Emi­ratis to re­hab, how­ever the lawyers said that in most cases they use prison in­stead as a puni­tive tool. Ex­pats can­not be sent to re­hab, so au­to­mat­i­cally face jail.

Yes­ter­day, a group of lawyers in Abu Dhabi spoke to the me­dia at court in a bid to raise aware­ness on the is­sue.

They said the prac­tice of jail­ing drug ad­dicts can ruin lives, as well as rip fam­i­lies apart and ir­repara­bly dam­age a per­son’s rep­u­ta­tion. They said it also pushes some drug ad­dicts to­wards a life of crime as they spend their time in cus­tody mix­ing with crim­i­nals.

The lawyers are call­ing for an amend­ment to cur­rent anti-nar­cotics laws that says of­fend­ers should no longer face prison sen­tences. They want au­thor­i­ties to con­sider other meth­ods, such as treat­ing ad­dic­tion or hand­ing out lesser pun­ish­ments, such as com­mu­nity ser­vice.

Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics from Abu Dhabi Crim­i­nal Court of First In­stance and Ap­peal courts, three de­fen­dants a day ap­ply on av­er­age for ad­dic­tion treat­ment.

Tariq Al Serkal, a crim­i­nal lawyer, said the law should not con­sider drug of­fend­ers as crim­i­nal.

“A drug ad­dict is a sick per­son and he should be treated as such,” he said. “Al­ter­na­tive meth­ods like send­ing ad­dicts for treat­ment would be more ef­fec­tive.

“A drug of­fender could be just an ad­dict, not a crim­i­nal, but af­ter lock­ing him up for years he could come out in­volved in crimes such as steal­ing and drug deal­ing.”

Faiza Moussa, a lawyer who deals with drug cases, said jail sen­tences for ad­dicts were not an ef­fec­tive de­ter­rent.

Moussa said: “Drug ad­dic­tion is more of a psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lem. If a per­son is charged with drug abuse they should be taken right away for mon­i­tored pe­ri­od­i­cal treat­ment pend­ing court rul­ing in­stead of keep­ing them in jail. “Courts should then re­fer the ad­dicts to re­habs for per­ma­nent treat­ment un­til they fully re­ha­bil­i­tated in­stead of sen­tenc­ing them to jail.” The lawyers added that if peo­ple are jailed for drug use they should be sep­a­rated from other crim­i­nals, such as those jailed for mur­der, drug deal­ing or theft, as they may learn bad habits. How­ever, Colonel Saeed Ab­dul­lah Al Suwaidi, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, Anti-Nar­cotics Fed­eral Direc­torate Gen­eral at the Min­istry of In­te­rior, said the law as it stands aims to make of­fend­ers re­form. How­ever, he added con­cerned au­thor­i­ties in his depart­ment in­ves­ti­gate drug abuse cases in­di­vid­u­ally, tak­ing into ac­count the of­fender’s age and rea­sons for con­sum­ing drugs, their re­la­tion­ship with fam­ily and if they are will­ing to re­form through treat­ment and other mea­sures be­fore their cases are re­ferred to pub­lic pros­e­cu­tion.

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