Egypt: Shedding some light on drugs investigations process

Recently, the media has been talking about the great efforts of the ministry of interior in its war against drugs and how prices of ‘Hashish’ for example tripled accordingly. Earlier last year there was a campaign calling upon drug users and addicts (users) to apply for treatment. All these efforts are welcomed but how about the law and the functioning of the legal system?

Drug possession for personal usage is a misdemeanour that is punishable of at least three years imprisonment. However, in most cases judges acquit the users or give 6 months imprisonment (Judges have the leverage to lower the punishment two levels beyond the lower limit set in the law)

However, many people are not aware of what happens behind the scene in prosecution. Its system in Egypt is similar to the French regime where prosecutors are responsible for handling investigations and interrogations with the suspects, witnesses and victims themselves impartially. If they were able to prove the presence of a crime they immediately press charges and prosecute that person before the competent court.

According to the law, users have the right to request during the interrogation to be sent to a treatment facility. Accordingly, there becomes a duty on prosecution to fulfil this duty and not to proceed with the case or press charges until his/her status is clarified. In case the competent commission decides that s/he needs treatment, s/he will be sent to the facility and will stay there or will be required to go there until s/he is treated. (Article 37 Repeated of the Law 182 of 1960)

Regretfully, the vast majority of those users are not aware of their rights and even if there is a lawyer attending the interrogation the advice is always to deny everything. As a result, in the overwhelming majority of cases users deny possession and and hence they do not get access to treatment and do not benefit from the incentive stipulated in the law.  

In rare cases, it happens that users are tired are desperate so they confess during the interrogation and ask the prosecutors to help them to get access to treatment (i.e. enforce the law). However, in these cases the general custom in prosecution is that the prosecutor would not mention that request in the documents and hence that user would be denied access to treatment. Legally and according to the internal procedures of prosecution a user has clear rights but what happens in practice is that users would almost never get access to treatment if they request it in prosecution. To put it in simple terms, prosecutors are not familiar with the procedures of how to transfer that user to a treating facility. Moreover, the law requires the presence of a committee that decides whether this user should be sent or not before being transferred to the facility. Practically, this committee is none existent. This adds another difficulty in enforcing such a law.

I remember a colleague during his investigation with a user the latter confessed and he asked for access to treatment. However, my colleague did not write it down. Afterwards, he was checking something with the chief prosecutor and told him about what happened so the chief prosecutor asked with a glare “did you right down his request?” and when the response was negative he said, “good good”.

The custom is not to go astray from the general rhythm and practice of work. An unfamiliar procedure is most likely avoided even if this would mean that it will be doing something wrong or immoral.

From the aforementioned it may be concluded that having a law is not enough in itself to tackle the problem but what matters are the enforcement abilities.