IBAHRI and other rights groups call for release of Qatari lawyers and quashing of their life imprisonment sentences
In a joint statement the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has called for the conviction and life imprisonment sentences given to Qatari lawyers, and brothers, Hazza bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri and Rashed bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri to be overturned. Handed down by the Second Circuit Criminal Court of Qatar, the sentences appear to be related to the lawyers’ legitimate professional activities and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, reports indicate that the brothers were denied fair trial rights as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In the statement co-signed by rights groups Lawyers for Lawyers, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, MENA Rights Group and the Institute for the Rule of Law of the International Association of Lawyers, the organisations urge the Qatari authorities to release the lawyers and expunge all convictions against them.
The joint statement: Qatari lawyers sentenced to life imprisonment
The undersigned organisations are gravely concerned about the sentencing to life imprisonment of Qatari lawyers Hazza bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri and Rashed bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri by the Second Circuit Criminal Court of Qatar on 10 May 2022.
On 29 July 2021, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani ratified law No (6) of 2021 that paved the way for the first elections of the country’s legislative body, the Shura Council. In early 2021, hundreds of tribe members, mainly from the al-Murra tribe, peacefully protested in widescale protests against their exclusion from the Shura Council elections.
Lawyer Hazza bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri took part in the protests and played a prominent role in sharing his opinions on the state of affairs in Qatar on his Twitter account. On 8 August 2021, he tweeted a video-recorded appeal directed to the Emir of Qatar in which he criticised the Shura elections law. In another video, he called on fellow protestors from his tribe to demand the Qatari government to release the detainees that were arrested after taking part in the protests. On 10 August 2021, members of the Criminal Investigation Department arrested Hazza bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri at his home.
Subsequently, Hazza bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri’s brother, Rashed bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri visited the Public Prosecution offices to enquire about the reasons for the arrest of his brother and to request access to act as his legal representative. Rashed bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri was then summoned to appear before the Public Prosecution on 11 August 2021, where he was immediately detained. Both lawyers were held by the cybercrime department until 22 August 2021. After that date, they were transferred to a State Security detention facility where they were held in solitary confinement.
Both lawyers stood trial for the first time on 26 January 2022, during which the judge appointed a defence lawyer for them, leaving the lawyers without the opportunity to appoint a lawyer of their own choosing. The first hearing and the subsequent hearings that took place on 22 February, 8 March and 10 May 2022 all took place behind closed doors.
On 10 May 2022, the Second Circuit Criminal issued a life sentence against both lawyers. The court convicted the lawyers and two activists that also stood trial 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’, ‘promoting, broadcasting and disseminating, through information technology means, incorrect news with the intent of endangering the safety of the state and its public order’, ‘stirring up public opinion and compromising the state’s social order’, and ‘organising a public assembly without a license’.
The court also issued, in absentia, a life sentence for Qatari poet, Mohammed bin Rashid bin Al-Dheeb Al-Ajami, and a 15-year prison sentence for citizen Mohammed Hamad Mohammed Al-Marri. Notably, neither Mohammed Al-Ajami nor Mohammed Al-Marri actually participated in the popular protests as they were outside the country when protests began, but they gave them their full support on social media and recorded video messages with peaceful expressions of support.
According to the information received, the trial lacked minimum standards for fair trial and legal procedures. During the closed sessions, the two lawyers did not have any meaningful opportunity to defend themselves. Fair trial rights denied include rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to: prompt, detailed notice of charges, have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence, examine evidence against and present evidence in favour of a defense and to have charges determined in open court before an independent, impartial and competent judiciary.
The undersigned organisations are deeply concerned that the life sentences issued against Hazza bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri and Rashed bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri are connected to, and serve to unlawfully restrict, their legitimate activities as attorneys and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
The United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states that governments must ensure that lawyers ‘are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance or improper interference.’ The Basic Principles further require that lawyers ‘shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards, and ethics’ (Principle 16). Moreover, the Basic Principles state that lawyers have the human rights to freedom of expression and to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice, and the promotion and protection of human rights (Principle 23).
Qatar is a State Party to the ICCPR, ratified in 2018. The ICCPR guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law as well as the right to timely and confidential legal representation by a lawyer of one’s own choosing, to assure protection of rights. Article 9 of the ICCPR recognises and protects both liberty and security of person. According to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), deprivation of liberty is arbitrary when it results from the exercise of fundamental rights including free expression, association and assembly as laid down in articles 19, 22 and 21 of the ICCPR and articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, interference in the work of human rights defenders and lawyers in the form of arbitrary detention results in a violation of the right to a fair trial under article 14 of the ICCPR.
The on the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19 ICCPR) states that: ‘Nor, under any circumstance, can an attack on a person, because of the exercise of his or her freedom of opinion or expression, including such forms of attack as arbitrary arrest, torture, threats to life and killing, be compatible with article 19. Journalists are frequently subjected to such threats, intimidation and attacks because of their activities. So too are persons who engage in the gathering and analysis of information on the human rights situation and who publish human rights-related reports, including judges and lawyers. All such attacks should be vigorously investigated in a timely fashion, and the perpetrators prosecuted, and the victims, or, in the case of killings, their representatives, be in receipt of appropriate forms of redress.’
We urge the relevant Qatari authorities to release Hazza bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri and Rashed bin Ali Abu Shurayda al-Marri and expunge all convictions against them until there are legitimate charges supported by credible evidence presented in proceedings that comply with fair trial guarantees, and guarantee that all lawyers in Qatar are able to practice law without threat, intimidation, hindrance, harassment, improper interference or reprisals in line with international law and standards on the role of lawyers.
- International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
- Gulf Centre for Human Rights
- Lawyers for Lawyers
- Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
- MENA Rights Group
- UIA-IROL (The Institute for the Rule of Law of the International Association of Lawyers)
END OF STATEMENT
Notes to the Editor
- The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.
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For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org
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