In the last two weeks of February, two more hearings were held to determine criminal responsibility for the 19 deaths in the Villaggio fire, with half a dozen more witnesses being called by the defense.
We have received a few inquiries about what has taken place at the hearings, as we have not published reports on them.
For nearly six months, Doha News has been covering these hearings at the Lower Criminal Court in Al Sadd. They are open and public, and have been largely attended by the defendants, their lawyers and supporters, Doha News, victims’ relatives and diplomatic representatives.
During the 11th hearing on Feb. 14, the judge presiding over the trial asked if any journalists were present in the courtroom. Myself and a reporter for the Peninsula answered affirmatively. We were instructed that we must submit a letter requesting the court’s permission to publish what happens during a hearing. We were permitted to stay in the courtroom provided we agree not to publish the details of what took place until permission was obtained.
Shortly thereafter, Doha News submitted the requested letter and the judge responded before the 12th hearing on Feb. 26, saying that we must prove we are an “official” entity, such as a newspaper. But we are charting new waters, legally speaking, as Qatar’s first digital news publication.
Sorting out the issues
Out of respect for the court’s proceedings, which we do not want to disrupt, we are consulting with advisors to figure out how to satisfy the needed requirements and will keep you updated on what happens.
Meanwhile, parents of some of the children killed in the fire told Doha News that the government has been in touch with them promising that the end of the hearings are near, and that there is pressure for a verdict to be issued before the one-year anniversary of the fire on May 28.
We will continue to attend the hearings and report on them once we have a clearer picture, and we hope you will be patient and understanding with us in the interim.
Credit: Photo by Shabina S. Khatri