Ex-executives of Al Jazeera Children’s Channel lament travel ban, lack of progress on case

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Despite a second court hearing on Wednesday, no movement appears to have been made in the criminal case against former Al Jazeera Children’s Channel (JCC) manager Mahmoud Bouneb and two of his colleagues, who have been under a travel ban in Qatar for 18 months.

The trio was among 30 senior members of JCC to be sacked in September 2011, according to Digital TV Europe, which added that no official reason was given for the mass dismissals.

Since then, allegations of mismanagement have surfaced, but charges have yet to be leveled against Bouneb, his wife, JCC’s former director of programming Malika Alouane, and former cost controlling manager Haitham Qudaih.

JCC, which reaches some 50 million households, is funded by Qatar Foundation.

Bouneb, a 58-year-old Canadian-Tunisian, left his job working for the chairman of the board at Al Jazeera News (now Al Jazeera Media Network) to become the executive general manager of JCC in early 2003. The channel formally launched in September 2005, and has won awards for producing children’s programming for the Arab world.

Travel ban

Speaking to Doha News, Bouneb said it was frustrating to hear that their case has been adjourned for another two months and said he was worried that, given the upcoming summer break, the hearings would drag on for at least another year.

Living in Qatar without being legally allowed to work or leave is already taking its toll, he said.

“I don’t wish for anybody to remain travel-banned for 18 months without working, without seeing the family, without healthcare,” he said. “At my age, close to 60, losing two years of my life for such a case is irreplaceable.

Whatever are the charges, we have served with loyalty, dedication and full transparency. And we are totally innocent.”

Alouane, a 46-year-old Moroccan who joined JCC in 2005, added:

“The hardest part is the injustice of working for so many years for a company that I thought I respected for its educational and human values…And being violated in my civil rights as a human being – not being allowed to travel, not being able to see my parents,” she said.

Qatar Foundation has not publicly commented on the case.

Alouane also expressed concerns about the fiscal health of Qudaih, a 36-year-old Palestinian father of three who also supports his parents.

Though the trio received a stipend for several months while stuck in Qatar, they told Doha News that they stopped receiving any monetary support four months ago, around the time that the prosecution began drawing up charges against them.

Their case is not unique in Qatar, where several other high-profile expats report financial difficulties after facing lawsuits here.

Kafala system

In October of 2011, after after 685 days in Doha as what he called an “economic hostage,” prominent Arab-American businessman Nasser Beydoun left Qatar. The 47-year-old executive served as CEO of the Wataniya Restaurants group from 2007 until the end of 2009, resigning after the global downturn caused business to sour.

But when Beydoun tried to leave Qatar, Wataniya refused to grant him an exit permit. The country instituted a travel ban on him when the company’s Qatari owners sued Beydoun for $13 million, accusing him of mismanagement and overpaying himself.

Qatar’s prosecutor’s office eventually found Beydoun not guilty of any criminal activity, but after he returned home, the businessman wrote a book titled “The Glass Palace,” warning people of the dangers of working here.

Bouneb and his colleagues’ hearing will resume on May 22.

“Five months and a half without knowing what are your charges?” he said, shaking his head.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo courtesy of JCC on Facebook

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