Qatar: Unfair Sentences Against 4 Activists Signals Worrying Freedoms Conditions
Geneva – A Qatari court has issued unfair life sentences against dissidents for their participation in peaceful protests calling for the abolition of the Shura Council law in August 2021, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said today in a statement expressing deep concern.
The Qatari Criminal Court held a secret session on 10 May, in which it issued life sentences against two brothers and lawyers, Hazza bin Ali Abu Sherida al-Marri and Rashid bin Ali Abu Sherida al-Marri, based on accusations related to exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly.
The authorities arrested the two brothers on 10 and 11 August last year after they participated in the protests in Doha. At the time, hundreds of the Al-Murrah tribe organized peaceful protests that continued for days, calling on the Qatari authorities to repeal the Shura Council elections law and grant them their full rights, including candidacy and election, just like the rest of the Qataris.
The court also issued a life sentence in absentia against Qatari poet Mohammed bin Rashid bin Al Dheeb Al-Ajmi, and another sentence in absentia for Mohammed Hamad Mohammed Al-Marri, for 15 years in prison for supporting the aforementioned protests on social media sites. Both are residing outside Qatar.
These harsh sentences are a setback for democratic openness that give worrying signals about the future of freedoms in the country. Infringing on people's freedoms and criminalizing the exercise of their legitimate rights clearly contradicts the Qatari constitution, which guarantees freedom of opinion, expression, and publication, and contradicts the authorities' declared goal of democratic reform.
The court convicted the four activists on a set of charges, including "resorting to threats and other illegal means to compel the Emir to perform work within his legal jurisdiction; spreading false and malicious rumors and news at home and abroad with the intent of harming national interests; stirring up public opinion and compromising the state’s social order; organizing a public assembly without a license;" and other charges that seem loose and unfair.
The trial lacked the minimum requirement of justice, as it took place in secret without prior public details, and it was not verified whether the accused or their representatives were granted their legal right to defend themselves or if the authorities allowed them to benefit from all legal procedures required in such cases.
The Qatari authorities should not use the judiciary to punish opponents and critics. They should preserve its independency and impartially and settle various disputes according to standards of justice, without honing articles of the constitution and other laws to issue rulings that may be politicized.
In August 2021, Euro-Med Monitor documented the referral of seven citizens, including attorney, Hazza Al-Marri, to the Public Prosecution for their participation in peaceful protests against the Shura Council elections law. The authorities then demanded their release.
Qatar's accession to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights in 2018 obliges it to fulfill its obligations under the International Covenant, especially Article 19, which affirms the right of every person to freedom of opinion and expression. Article 21 also states: "The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society."
The Qatari authorities should abolish the unjust sentences against the four activists, provide them with fair trial conditions and guarantees, and respect the rights of individuals to express their opinions freely and hold peaceful assemblies without prosecution or criminalization.