For months, taxi driver Youssef Daher has been detained in prison without a charge, after Lebanese judges launched an open-ended strike in August to demand better wages in a collapsed economy.
The judges’ strike, which put the fate of scores of detainees on hold, is further evidence of the complete collapse of public institutions in Lebanon, where obtaining a passport or completing a real estate transaction requires a miracle.
Daily, Daher sends messages from inside his prison cell in the city of Tripoli via WhatsApp service to his lawyer asking him if the judges have ended their strike.
“My family has lost their sole breadwinner and must now rely on aid to survive,” he told AFP.
Eight months ago, the security forces arrested Daher after he drove a passenger accused of kidnapping, unbeknownst to him, he said.
After completing investigations with him, the authorities did not press charges against him, so his lawyer requested his release, right before the judges began their strike and his request has been pending ever since.
Since Lebanon’s economy went into a free fall in 2019, the country’s currency has lost 95 per cent of its value against the US dollar, forcing public sector employees to go into repeated strikes.
The judges announced an open-ended strike in mid-August, which continued, despite receiving an increase in salaries and benefits.
In September, the Parliament approved an increase in the salaries of public sector employees, including judges, by two-fold, as well as improving hospital and educational aid. However, the decision has not yet been implemented.
The judges’ wages are currently worth only around $160 on average, due to soaring inflation.
A judge who asked not to be named said the judge with his family cannot live with such a salary, stressing that the judges were forced to go into their strike because their financial and social conditions have become difficult.
He noted that some judges who suffer from chronic diseases “have had to stop conducting the necessary periodic examinations and purchase their medicines”.