Qatari activists held for a week over ‘threatening’ letter to French embassy

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Two local activists have been detained by Qatari authorities for a week now, apparently over a threatening letter submitted to the French embassy protesting the country’s intervention in Mali, but are reportedly out of solitary confinement.

According to Amnesty International and representatives of the men, Muhammad Issa al-Baker and Mansour bin Rashed al-Matroushi were kept in solitary confinement for five days after being arrested by plain-clothes security officers on March 22.

The international rights organization issued an update on the two last night, saying they now have improved conditions – including regular meals and communication with the outside world – but remain without charge and have yet to see an arrest warrant.

A representative speaking on behalf of the two men said both were questioned over the phone by authorities prior to their arrest, but were never served with a formal police summons. Authorities, however, have told Amnesty that arrest warrants were issued.

While in detention for the last week, Al-Baker and al-Matroushi have been re-questioned about the letter – dated March 3 – which they submitted to the French Embassy in Qatar. The two delivered the letter on behalf of some 70 local activists angered by France’s moves to intervene in the Western African country of Mali. No signatures were left on the document.

Threat?

The French Embassy has so far declined to comment on the letter publicly, but Amnesty reports that the diplomatic mission contacted Qatari authorities about it on March 7.

The letter has since circulated on social media, and both authorities and local commentators have said the letter (translated from Arabic into English and embedded below) carried a clear threat to the embassy and France.

In particular, this line has drawn criticism: “We demand that you immediately cease your military campaign in Mali or else you would be exposing yourselves to the wrath of people who love death as much as you love life.”

Sultan al-Khalaifi, who works with the two men as part of the Genevea-registered Adel Group for Human Rights, told Doha News that neither the protest letter, nor an earlier request to hold a peaceful demonstration, violated any laws in Qatar or incited hatred or violence.

“The letter we sent to the French Embassy carried no threat. It was advice,” he said in Arabic, adding that the group respected the Ministry of Interior’s decision to deny permission to hold a protest in front of the embassy.

He continues:

“When we said that if France did not stop its military intervention in Mali, it would encounter people who value death as much as they value life, we meant to inform them that there were people who might act aggressively against them because they were angered by France meddling in their affairs. 

If I warn someone not to go to some street because he might be attacked, does that mean that I am threatening him?!”

Al-Khalaifi, who was himself detained by authorities for a month without charge in 2011, said the purpose of his colleagues’ arrest was to intimidate. Referring to the dozens of people who worked on the letter, he added: 

“Let the security police arrest all of us. Let them arrest me first if they care so much for the French interests and not free Qatari citizens.”

…”It is very ironic and sad that Paris itself witnessed protests against the French military intervention in Mali, but here in Qatar, the home country of A Jazeera and supposed democracy, two men are detained because of letter.”

Here’s our translation of the letter, plus the original Arabic document shared with us by Amnesty International:

A lawyer speaking to Al Karama, a Swiss-based human rights organization that al-Khalaifi was previously associated with, said the two men’s case has now been referred to Qatar’s National Human Rights Council.

It remains unclear when precisely al-Baker and al-Matroushi will be released or charged.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo via Al Karama

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