Qaṭar: Release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally

25.04.22

The authorities in Qatar continue to detain an unlimited number of citizens who participated in or supported peaceful protests that broke out in the country during the past year, after the implementation of two laws and a related decree to organise the Shura Council elections, which were characterised by discrimination and marginalisation. As Qatar prepares to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained in violation of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Laws that discriminate between citizens

On 29 July 2021, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ratified Law No. (6) of 2021 regarding the procedures for the election of the Shura Council. Also on 29 July 2021, the Emir of Qatar ratified Law No. (7) of 2021 regarding the formation of the Shura Council and its competencies. In addition, the Emir issued Decree No. (37) of 2021 defining the 30 electoral districts of the Shura Council and defining the regions of each on a tribal basis, where one member is elected for each electoral district.

These two laws (6) and (7) and the decree attached to them established blatant discrimination between Qatari citizens, and denied a large group of them the right to run for office or the right to vote, or both, and completely marginalised other groups in society.

For more information on the election laws, see GCHR’s appeal of 13 August 2021: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2808

A marginal role for the Shura Council

The Qatari Constitution gave a marginal role to the Shura Council, as Article (106) gives the authority to the Emir of the country to stop the work of any law issued by the Council for a period that is "estimated to achieve the higher interests of the country." As for Article (108), it gives the Shura Council the right to express what it calls "desires" in public matters, but it gives the government the power not to take them.

The conclusion is that the role of the Shura Council does not qualify it to represent a real legislative authority, as its tasks do not include approving or discussing defense, security, or economic policies.

Mock elections

On 02 October 2021, elections were held in Qatar to select 30 members out of a total of 45 members of the Shura Council.

A total of 233 candidates competed, but 101 withdrew their candidacies on voting day. The outcome, which was announced on the evening of election day, resulted in the victory of 30 of the men nominated. None of the 28 women candidates succeeded. The reports received by GCHR confirmed the enormous pressures that many of the candidates were subjected to from influential government forces, including the State Security Apparatus. It was this pressure and intimidation that eventually forced many candidates to withdraw in favor of other government-affiliated candidates. On 14 October 2021, the Emir of Qatar appointed another 15 members - including two women - of the Shura Council, most of whom are government employees, bringing the number of members to 45.

Unprecedented popular protests

The promulgation of these laws was followed by mass protests in Qatar, especially by members of the Al-Murra tribe, large numbers of whom were denied the right to run for office, vote, or both. Monday, 09 August 2021 was a busy day in contemporary Qatari history, as it witnessed a peaceful gathering by protesters from the Al-Murra tribe, during which they demanded the Shura Council elections law be overturned, the right to full citizenship, respect for freedom of expression, and the promotion of social justice among citizens. The protests have continued since then.

The security forces made several attempts to break up the sit-in, which continued in the following days. They stormed the homes of some members of this tribe, and arrested dozens of them who led the protests and participated in them.

Peaceful prisoners of conscience

On 19 September 2021, GCHR published a list of 21 citizens who were arrested on 10 August 2021 and the following days for their participation in peaceful protests. Informed local sources confirmed that many of them were released, after they were forced by the State Security Apparatus to sign written pledges not to demonstrate again.

Among those still in detention are two brothers who are lawyers, Dr. Hazzaa bin Ali Abu Shraydeh Al-Marri, who was arrested on 10 August 2021, and Rashid bin Ali Abu Shraydeh Al-Marri, who was arrested the next day. Various sources confirmed that they are being held in solitary confinement by the State Security Apparatus.

Dr. Hazzaa bin Ali Al-Marri played a prominent role in leading these protests at their launch and calling for others to participate in them. He appeared in several recordings, in one of which he made an appeal to the Emir of Qatar, saying, "We will demand our rights and dignity in this country and from within the country, even if we are destined to die in prison." The social media accounts of Qatari citizens residing abroad have also played a prominent role in supporting and sustaining peaceful protests.

Rashid bin Ali Al-Marri used his Twitter account to announce his support for the peaceful protests as well as to show his full solidarity with his brother Dr. Hazzaa bin Ali Al-Marri.

According to local sources, their trial is taking place before the Criminal Court of First Instance. The charges against them include communicating with neighbouring countries, organising unauthorised demonstrations, and forming a political organisation. On 20 April 2022, the Qatari poet, Mohammed bin Rashid bin Al-Dheeb Al-Ajami, announced in a video he posted on his Twitter account, that the session that was scheduled to take place that day to pronounce the verdict against them has been postponed.

On 29 November 2011, Al-Ajami was sentenced to life imprisonment, later reduced to 15 years in prison, for inciting the overthrow of the government. He was arrested after publishing the "Jasmine Poem" which criticised governments across the Gulf region and was deemed by the authorities as an insult to the Emir of Qatar. He was released on 15 March 2016 after spending four years in prison and is currently living outside Qatar, out of fear of being arrested.

The State Security Apparatus issued orders to their brother, Salih bin Ali Abu Shraydeh Al-Marri, to close his Twitter account due to his tweets calling for his two detained brothers' release and demanding information about their legal status. He actually closed his account, and in return for that, the State Security allowed him to visit them irregularly and for very short periods, in the presence of security observers working for the State Security Apparatus.

In a separate case, GCHR received information confirming that the Criminal Court of First Instance sentenced Dr. Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Marri to four years in prison due to his support for the peaceful protests, as well as for publishing a tweet -deleted afterward - on his Twitter account, in which he called for  men not to post pictures of the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on social media networks. He was arrested on 27 August 2021.

Reliable reports confirmed the ruling by the Criminal Court of First Instance against citizen Mohammed bin Mahras Al-Marri, who holds Saudi nationality, with a sentence of two years’ imprisonment followed by deportation from the country on charges related to filming and supporting the peaceful protests of the Al-Murra tribe.

It is not certain if the State Security Apparatus, which has the upper hand over the judiciary, will allow prisoners of conscience to appeal their initial rulings. The state security apparatus, with its unfettered power, would render the appeal process useless even if they were allowed to appeal their prison sentences.

Recommendations

Once again, GCHR deplores the practices of the security authorities in Qatar which target and arrest citizens solely for organising peaceful gatherings, including to express their opinions in opposition to the elections laws issued by the Emir of the country regarding the Shura Council, and other unfair discriminatory policies.

GCHR calls on the Qatari government to immediately release all detainees in connection with the recent peaceful protests, and to protect public freedoms, especially freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of movement.

The Qatari government should amend all discriminatory laws, instructions, and government policies to ensure that they treat all citizens in Qatar equally, and do not marginalise different groups of society, especially women, migrant workers, and resident migrants, as well as the Bedoon community who have been deprived of Qatari citizenship for decades.

A country that claims to be civilised and will host the FIFA World Cup 2022 football competitions cannot practice this abhorrent discrimination against its citizens and the various residents on its territory, or continue to violate public freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of movement.