Qatar’s Emir has approved new legislation that increases the punishment for publicly insulting the GCC flag to up to three years in prison, and raises the maximum fine to QR200,000.
The law now also includes harsher penalties for those engaging in “witchcraft” and anyone who collects donations without legal authorization, a stipulation that could affect many local volunteer organizations.
The amendments to the penal code were initially approved by the Cabinet late last year, and have now been passed into law by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Details of the new provisions of Law No. 22 of 2015 were published in local newspapers Al Raya and Al Sharq and will also appear in the official gazette.
According to those texts, Article 138 of Law No. 11 of 2004 was amended to include insulting the GCC flag, or the flag of any international organization or authority.
The law added that insulting includes “damaging a flag, bringing it down (from it post) or any other action that expresses hate and contempt.”
Previously, only those insulting Qatar’s flag or that of a “non-hostile” state could be punished.
Violating free speech
Speaking to Doha News, former Qatar justice minister and practicing attorney Dr. Najeeb Al Nuaimi said that such legislation prevents residents from exercising their right to freely express their opinions against other countries and their policies.
He said that he believes Qatar’s flag is the only one that should be protected and respected within the state.
In recent years, Qatar’s government has taken several steps to safeguard its national flag.
Two years ago ahead of National Day, then-Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani signed into legislation new strict rules about the flag.
Under that law, it became punishable to use the flag as a commercial trademark and in advertisements without formal permission from authorities; to display a damaged or discolored flag; or to change the flag or add photographs, text or designs to it.
Violators could face six months to three years in jail or a QR100,000 to QR200,000 fine.
Qatar’s penal law also now includes a provision that punishes witchcraft and “quackery” – whether it’s free or practiced for a fee – with a prison sentence of three to 15 years and/or a maximum fine of QR200,000.
Al Nuaimi expressed his support for the law, saying it would protect many residents from fraud.
He added that “quackery” is a widespread problem in Qatar, due in part because people try to capitalize on the various beliefs and superstitions held by the country’s large and diverse expat population.
According to the penal code, witchcraft and quackery includes “performing actions or saying words or using methods aimed at deceiving a victim and giving him/her delusions of the ability to perform sorcery and witchcraft, know the unseen, disclose what lies in one’s conscious, fulfill a need, desire or benefit, prevent danger or cause harm.”
The penalty also applies to any mediator who assists, hosts, opens or runs a place where such business is conducted, as well as those who promote it or try to cover up the crime.
In addition to jail time and fines, perpetrators could also have their shop closed and their earnings confiscated.
However, if they turn themselves in before authorities become aware of their crimes, they will be pardoned of all penalties, the legislation states.
A court can also suspend a verdict if the perpetrators surrender to authorities after the crime is known and if it leads to the arrest of others engaged in fraud.
Those who are convicted of attempting to commit this crime can be sentenced to up to half the maximum penalty, or seven and a half years.
Finally, a new provision penalizes those who collect donations personally or via individuals, newspapers or companies or any other means without necessary legal authorization; with up to one year in prison and/or a maximum fine of QR50,000.
The legislation does not specify whether the donations that are prohibited are only financial in nature, or also in-kind.
The newspaper or institution that advertises or facilitates such acts face fines of a maximum of QR100,000 and could be shut down or suspended from work for up to one year. Money collected from these donations would also be confiscated by authorities.
According to Al Nuaimi, non-profit groups such as animal rescue organizations could be affected if they don’t have an official license to collect donations in Qatar.
But the main objective is likely to prevent the sending of funds abroad to “terrorist groups” like ISIS, as authorities fend off accusations that the nation is funding fighters in Arab countries like Iraq and Syria.
It’s also to prevent fraud by individuals who claim to be collecting money for charity purposes like for Syrian refugees, but end up keeping the money for themselves, according to Al Nuaimi.
The new provisions come a year after a new law was passed to establish the Qatar Authority for Charity Work (QACW), a government body that regulates and oversees charities located here.
So far, however, Nuaimi said that no organization has been penalized under that law.
Other new amendments to the penal code include article 182, which increases the maximum jail sentence from two to three years for a public employee who obstructs the implementation of a ruling or order issued by a court or the attorney general 30 days after the date of being officially notified about it.