Tunisia’s Parliament has voted to relax the nation’s harsh drug sentencing laws which could allow first-time offenders to forgo jail time, according to a report from the New Arab. Under current law, dating back to former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a mandatory one-year jail term was imposed for narcotics use, ruling out any mitigating factors.
The move by lawmakers will allow judges the power to impose sentences at their own discretion. According to Justice Minister Ghazi Jeribi, the move is “temporary” as the national assembly considers broader changes to Law 52.
Lawyer Ghazi Mrabet, who has campaigned for the reforms, said the vote is a “considerable step” forward.
“Civil society has won the first battle but the fight will continue,” he said in the report.
According to the report, from 2011 to 2016 the number of trials conducted under Law 52 increased from 732 to 5,744 which led to thousands of young Tunisians incarcerated every year, mostly for cannabis-related crimes.
The amendment, a part of a larger package of reforms, passed overwhelmingly in the national assembly 133-11. The larger bill, which aims to eliminate prison terms for the first two drug-related convictions, is reportedly blocked in the legislature.