Qaṭar: Qatar: Anniversary of sentenced poet recalls the need for the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and all human rights
On the third anniversary of the sentencing of jailed poet Mohamed Rashid Al-Ajami, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) reiterates its call on the government of Qatar to promote and protect human rights and to stop its restriction on basic human rights including the right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech.
On 29 November 2011 Mohamed Rashid Al-Ajami was handed down a life sentence which was reduced to 15 years in prison, for insulting the Emir of Qatar and “inciting to overthrow the ruling regime.” He was arrested after the publication of his "Jasmine poem," which criticised governments across the Gulf region in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.
The GCHR expresses serious concern at the on-going restrictions on the freedom of expression imposed in Qatar, including legal and extra-legislative measures.
Together with CIVICUS the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the GCHR raised these concerns during Qatar’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nation’s in Geneva in September, and strongly condemned the refusal of the government of Qatar to accept a large majority of recommendations put forward, including almost all recommendations calling for respect of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. (For further information please see http://gc4hr.org/news/view/754, http://gc4hr.org/news/view/616)
The human rights situation in Qatar is deteriorating as is evidenced by the sentencing of Mohamed Rashid Al-Ajami. Journalists that investigate human rights violations disappear and human rights defenders are harassed, threatened and imprisoned on a regular basis.
A Cyber Crimes Law was introduced in September which criminalizes anyone that is found “[jeopardizing] the safety of the state, its general order, and its local or international peace” by spreading or publishing “false news through any means.” It is feared that this legislation may be applied arbitrarily against human rights defenders and journalists.
Article 36 of the 2004 Qatari Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention providing that “no person may be arrested, detained, searched, neither may his freedom of residence and mobility be restricted save under the provisions of the law.” Moreover, Article 12 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders mandates states to take necessary measures to ensure protection of human rights defenders. Nonetheless, the Qatari authorities continue to invoke vague and ill-defined legislation to arbitrarily detain and imprison civil society activists and human rights defenders for undertaking their legitimate and peaceful activities.
Despite the fact that Article 47 of the same 2004 Qatari Constitution states that, “Freedom of expression of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and circumstances set forth in the law”, the government continues to invoke restrictive and overbroad legislation to arrest and imprison journalists and bloggers and other government critics who report on sensitive topics. Further, the government continues to drastically limit access to international media and internet news sites and strictly controls domestic media outlets.
The GCHR urges the government in Qatar to:
- Ratify all international treaties including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and to extend a standing invitation to the UN Special Procedures, particularly to the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression;
- Ensure that civil society organisations are able to be established, registered and to operate freely without fear of harassment or reprisals. To this end the authorities should reduce the fees for registering an organisation and amend the rules by which an organisation can be dissolved;
- Allow access to national media outlets and Internet based informational resources and ensure that bloggers and all those using on-line services are free to do so without fear of reprisals;
- Amend the Press and Publications law of 1979 which contains broad provisions outlawing certain speech including requirements that journalists refrain from reporting on issues which may cause damage to the “supreme interests of the country” or are “offensive to public morals" and repeal the Law on Press and Publication which criminalises legitimate forms of freedom of expression;
- Amend Law No. 18 of 2004 on Public Meetings and Demonstrations in order to fully guarantee the right to freedom of assembly;
- Ensure that all human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, are protected and promoted and that journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders are able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate work without fear of harassment, including judicial harassment and reprisals.