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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Tunisia slashes 30-year jail terms for pot-smoking trio

The three were found guilty of organised consumption of cannabis in a public space [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 10 March, 2021

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Three Tunisians convicted of smoking cannabis had their 30-year jail terms significantly reduced.

A court on Tuesday significantly reduced 30-year jail terms for three Tunisians convicted of smoking cannabis, in a case that sparked debate in the country about repressive drug laws.

The appeals court in Kef, in northwestern Tunisia, sentenced two of the men to one year in prison and the third to two years, their lawyers said.

The three had been found guilty on January 20 of organised consumption of cannabis in a public space.

They had shared a joint in a disused locker room after a football match between friends in a former stadium in the marginalised rural area of Tunisia, their defence team said.

A fourth man, arrested nearby, had been sentenced to five years in prison, but was given a three-month sentence on appeal.

He and the two defendants sentenced to one year will be released soon, as they have already spent more than a year in detention since their arrest in mid-2019, the lawyers said.

The third man who had been sentenced to 30 years will serve more time behind bars.

"The court applied the law with discernment," Hassina Darragi, one of the lawyers, told AFP.

Human rights organisations and Tunisians on social media had denounced the 30-year prison sentences as too harsh and called for changes to the law.

According to the current legislation, known as Law 52, possession of drugs for personal use is punishable by one to five years in prison, while dealing attracts 10 years' jail.

But when considered organised crime, the penalties can go up to life behind bars.

In response to the outcry, politicians have called for the law to be relaxed, and several bills are being drafted, one of them aiming to legalise the production and sale of cannabis.

In 2019, 21.5 percent of people detained in Tunisia were taken in for drug-related offences, mostly for cannabis use, according to Avocats Sans Frontieres, an international NGO.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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