Lebanon News

General amnesty discussions far from over

As the parliamentary elections slated for May 6 inch closer, there has been a lot of talk over the possible endorsement of a general amnesty law. In order to be presented to Parliament, the draft law should be proposed by several lawmakers.

Once MPs put the draft law on the table, it would need the votes of half of the 128 Parliament members, plus one, to be endorsed.

There is no guarantee that President Michel Aoun will sign the law, even if it was passed in Parliament. If he were to decide not to approve it and referred the bill back to Parliament for reconsideration, Parliament would then need the “Yes” votes of two-thirds of lawmakers in order to endorse it again.

However, if Aoun chooses not to take any action, and neither signs the law nor refers it back to Parliament, the bill goes into effect within one month after being sent to Baabda Palace.

Several of those with arrest warrants against them in different areas across Lebanon have linked their participation in the elections to the endorsement of a general amnesty law. This isn’t the first time that calls have been made for politicians to pass a general amnesty law, but in the past the issue, deemed too controversial by some, was put aside.

Parliamentary sources following up on the general amnesty request said that one of the key issues was the need to know the criteria that will be followed in setting the law’s text.

This is in addition to specifying the kind of crimes and misdemeanors that will be included in the amnesty. The sources added that there are several kinds of crimes potentially included, ranging from terror charges, assault against the Lebanese Army, drugs and fraud.

There are more than 1,000 arrest warrants out for suspects in the Bekaa area, in addition to a number of people who have been sentenced, the Parliamentary sources explained, noting that this will prompt the area’s political parties to secure the necessary signatures to present the draft law before Parliament.

They added that the law would also be to the benefit of politicians representing areas with a majority of Islamist prisoners. Nevertheless, the sources said that there are certain parties – mainly Christian ones – that aren’t very positive about the draft law on the basis that the release of one prisoner, Michel Samaha, no longer constitutes a priority for them.

Samaha was sentenced to 13 years with hard labor after being indicted in 2012 for establishing a terrorist network to assassinate prominent political and religious figures who opposed Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Sources close to Baabda Palace said Aoun has certain criteria when it comes to this matter and that he will wait to see what the Parliamentary blocs would agree on. The sources said that in the event the law was referred to Baabda after Parliament’s endorsement, Aoun would study it and see if the bill included the same principles that he saw fit for the law’s publication.

The sources were unable to specify whether the general amnesty law could be agreed upon in the period before the elections or whether the necessary votes for its endorsement would be secured. But the sources expressed doubt that the law would be endorsed if Aoun decided to refer it back to Parliament, saying that securing the approval of two-thirds of the 128 lawmakers would be difficult.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2018, on page 3.

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