Qatar mulls harsher penalties for drug dealers caught selling to youth

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As part of efforts to tackle rising drug use among young people in Qatar, the country is considering imposing stricter punishments on dealers who sell to adolescents, an official has said.

In an interview published in Al Sharq today, Amr Aly Al Hemeidy, assistant director of the Ministry of Interior’s narcotics department, said that the most dangerous drugs used by addicts in Qatar are cocaine, heroin and morphine.

Other more common drugs that are often misused include psycho-stimulants like tramadol, captagon and Lyrica, he said.

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Last year, a senior official at the newly opened Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre (TRC) said that between 3 to 5 percent  of Qatar’s population is addicted to either alcohol or drugs.

He added that the full scale of the problem isn’t known, as no official statistics are currently kept, and that many addicts fail to seek help in Qatar due to the stigma attached to addiction here.

Addressing this issue, Al Hemeidy emphasized that drug addicts can be ordered by the court to be committed to a rehabilitation facility, rather than serve jail time. Those who voluntarily seek treatment from drug addiction are not charged, he added.

Additionally, a spouse or relative can also ask the prosecution to commit the drug addict to a rehabilitation facility without his/her consent, he said.

Penalties

Current penalties for drug use and dealing range from jail time to the death penalty, in addition to fines of up to QR500,000, according to Law No. 9 for the year 1987.

According to Al Hemeidy, narcotics have a negative effect on the whole family, both socially and economically.

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Drug addicts can become a burden on their loved ones, resorting to stealing or other illegal methods to be able to buy drugs, he said. Those who drive under the influence can also cause fatal car accidents, that could lead to the loss of many innocent lives.

To tackle the problem, the official called on Qatar residents to cooperate with authorities to have a society “free from drugs” and establish a safe and stable community.

Al Hemeidy said that his department works in collaboration with other ministries to hold campaigns in schools that raise awareness among students, parents and teachers regarding drug use and prevention.

The department also receives information and complaints regarding any irregular behavior of students suspected of drug abuse. The information, which can be sent through the MOI’s website, is confidential and reported to the designated authorities only if necessary.

Transit point

In addition to combating drug usage within the country, Qatar has been working to foil cross-border smuggling attempts as it becomes an increasingly popular transit point for narcotics trafficking.

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In June, a senior customs official said that authorities foiled 317 attempts to smuggle drugs into the country in 2014, the Peninsula reported. That accounts to almost one seizure a day.

The government has also installed new devices at Hamad International Airport (HIA) to detect drug smugglers, especially passengers who are drug mules.

Officers have previously suggested they visually monitor travelers and have referred to being tipped off by a passenger’s “nervous behavior.”

They’ve also been alerted to suspected drug smugglers by Qatar Airways staff, who have previously reported when a passenger refuses to eat or drink on a long flight, which could suggest that the person swallowed drugs – likely wrapped in condoms or other material – to avoid detection.

Qatar also depends on more conventional methods like the X-raying of bags and the help of a high-tech security vehicle unveiled last year.

Still, attempts to smuggle drugs through and into Qatar have been rising in recent years. Johan Obdola, president of the Vancouver-based International Organisation for Security and Intelligence, told the Peninsula in 2013:

“It’s a very small amount that they have seized in Qatar, but we can see from recent activity that Qatar is a new route for drug traffickers from Brazil and Argentina, among other countries, who are using the route to expand their illicit trade in the Gulf region.”

He added that Qatar’s growing wealth has also made it more attractive as both a destination market and transit point for smugglers.

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