BEIRUT — Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi will present an emergency bill to Parliament Thursday aimed at reducing prison overcrowding in Lebanon, he announced at a press conference on Wednesday. The announcement came less than a week after six catering companies threatened to no longer provide food to detainees after Sept. 1 if the state fails to pay them.
“One of the measures we have taken to reduce the phenomenon of overcrowding is the reduction of the prison year” that is used to measure sentence times, Mawlawi said. One prison year for a convict’s sentence is currently nine months.
“I discussed this subject with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who both support the idea” of reduced sentences, he also said.
The caretaker interior minister would present the proposed law “to this effect” on Thursday morning in Parliament..
According to Mawlawi, “79.1 percent of detainees are awaiting trial,” which has contributed to the overcrowding of prisons. “Magistrates are called upon to help resolve this problem by speeding up court decisions, and we must seriously study the question of the general amnesty which is necessary in the current circumstances,” Mawlawi, who is also a judge, added.
Addressing the issue of catering companies potentially halting supplies of food for prisons, Mawlawi said that prisons would “benefit” from food donations given to the Interior Ministry. He did not further clarify the quantity of such donations that might be available.
Last Friday, the Finance Ministry allocated LL10 billion from budgetary reserves to pay prison food suppliers. This amount “represents only one month of the prison food invoices owed to food companies for the last seven months,” the catering companies criticized in a letter last Thursday to Mawlawi, demanding instead “LL80 billion.”
Already overcrowded, Lebanese prisons have been hit hard by the country’s unprecedented economic crisis since October 2019. In March 2021, Attorney General of the Republic Ghassan Oueidat opened an investigation following press reports reporting a risk of starvation inside prisons.