It has been a year since I launched my foundation in Vancouver to advocate for jailed journalists and support freedom of expression — a basic human right.

So far, we have participated in events with families of incarcerated journalists worldwide, donated modest funds in solidarity and partnered with Amnesty International in writing a proposed charter to better protect reporters and Canadians imprisoned abroad.

In that time, the Fahmy Foundation has declined numerous requests to intervene in cases that did not comply with our mandate. That was until I received a distressful call from the extended family of Fahad Jasem Abudulla Al Malki, the former deputy of the Qatari intelligence service, incarcerated since 1995.

They told me they are “extremely” worried about his deteriorating health and the fate of his cousin Khalid Al Malki, also a former intelligence officer detained with him.

The tiny State of Qatar situated in the Arabian Gulf became a British protectorate in the early 20th century before gaining its independence in 1971. A nation of 2.2 million people in 2015, most residents are expatriates — foreign workers, mostly Indians, Arabs, and some Westerners with temporary residence status.

The Al Malkis were among 18 officers sentenced to death for allegedly participating in the attempted failed counter coup that aimed to reinstate Emir Khalifa Bin Hamad Al Thani in 1995 while he was on vacation in Switzerland.

To learn more about these men, I tracked down retired General Mahmoud Mansour, a decorated war veteran who fought in the Egyptian Special Forces in the 1973 war against Israel, and was dispatched to Qatar in 1988 to help form the Qatari intelligence bureau.

His main job was to train officers he still calls his “sons,” including Mr. Al Malki and his cousin.

Sitting in his modest home in Cairo, Egypt, Mr. Mansour, dressed in suit and tie, proudly showed me photos of himself teaching Qatari officers how to disguise themselves as women, janitors, and construction workers to stage stakeouts on the streets of the Qatari capital Doha.

One photo depicts him instructing his students on the use of carrier pigeons to transfer messages.

Mahmoud Mansour, Mohamed Fahmy, Qatar
General Mahmoud Mansour, a decorated war veteran who fought in the Egyptian Special Forces in the 1973 war against Israel, and was dispatched to Qatar in 1988 to help form the Qatari intelligence bureau. Photo courtesy of Mohamed Fahmy

Al Malki wrongly imprisoned

“Fahad Al Malki refused to join the coup movement,” Mr. Mansour proclaimed. “He is not a traitor and was hands down the best officer, well built, and spoke good English at a time when most of his colleagues could not read or write.”

“The cell in our intelligence headquarters housed 180 prisoners,” he added. “Around 3,000 more Qataris arrested during the security sweep that followed the (attempted counter) coup were sent to a prison in the desert where they were tortured — some disappeared.”

Mr. Mansour said he became disappointed with Hassan Bin Abdualla Al Thani, the head of the intelligence apparatus he helped create, for failing to stand up to the real orchestrators of the coup – Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the son of the Emir, and Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani, who later became the prime minister.

An agitated Mr. Mansour told me that he resigned and returned to Egypt in September 1995. Almost two decades later, Mr. Al Malki and many prominent Qataris remain hostages to a system that has little respect for human rights.

Hamad Bin Jasem Al Thani, Qatar, prime minister
Qatar's former prime minsiter Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani. File photo by Associated Press

Qataris arbitrarily detained and tortured

Al Karama, an independent Swiss-based human rights organization, issued a scathing report in 2010 documenting numerous cases of citizens detained arbitrarily and tortured in Qatari prisons.

The report states that 18 people were sentenced to death in May 2001 for participating in the coup instigated by the deposed father of the former Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. Since then, most of the former officers were pardoned, some in 2005 and most recently in 2010.

Julia Legner, an Al Karama spokesman, confirmed to me that “only two officers” remain incarcerated after she contacted Qatari officials last week. This tale of good versus evil led me to more stories of Qatari citizens who have experienced injustice.

Poet Mohamed Al-Ajami was sentenced to life in a secret trial in 2012 for “insulting the Emir” in a poem and was pardoned four years later. Journalist Faraj Al-Shammari was detained without charges in 1999 with his wife and five children for writing a column urging the Qatari government to lower taxes; they were deported to Saudi Arabia and stripped of their nationality.

I have remained in contact with former justice minister and human rights advocate Najeeb Al Nauimi who had represented the poet Al-Ajami. In our most recent conversation I learned that Mr. Al Nauimi also had to seek justice against the Qatari government in a U.S. court after his multimillion-dollar property was illegally confiscated.

Mr. Al Nauimi, who once represented the slain Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and some of the detainees in Guantanamo prison, told the media after the verdict of his client, the poet, that the Qatari judicial system “cannot be trusted.”

Qatar, poet, Mohammed Al-Ajami, Fahmy Foundation
Poet Mohamed Al Ajami was sentenced to life in a secret trial in 2012 for “insulting the Emir” in a poem and was pardoned four years later. Photo supplied by the Fahmy Foundation.

UN expert concerned by judicial shortcomings

Another silenced voice seeking justice and refuge is Mona Al Sulaiti, the exiled sister of the current Qatari minister of communication. In a recent sit-down interview in Egypt, she told me she fled after being fired from her teaching job and losing her land to illegal confiscation; she had criticized the government on her social media platforms for funding terrorist groups, crushing dissent, and meddling in the affairs of Libya, Syria, and Egypt during the Arab Spring.

Her attempts to receive redress from Qatari courts failed; the courts dismissed her cases.

In January 2015, Gabriela Knaul, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, issued a report on achievements and challenges of the Qatari judicial system after conducting a field investigation.

“The Special Rapporteur recognizes that Qatar has come a long way in a short time with respect to developing its justice system,” the report says. “Yet, in spite of Qatar’s progress and achievements, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that the challenges and shortcomings she identified are serious and negatively affect the independence and impartiality of the justice system, as well as the realization of people’s human rights.”

Qatar, World Cup, 2022
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, seen here in 2010, holds the World Cup trophy after the announcement of Qatar hosting the 2022 soccer World Cup in Zurich. File photo by Associated Press

Qatar first Arab nation to host World Cup in 2022

The grim stories continued when I interviewed Fawaz Al Attiya, the British-born Qatari government spokesman from 1996 to 1998. Fawaz corroborated the information regarding Fahad’s incarceration during our meeting in the lobby of a lavish hotel in London last month.

The suave former diplomat living in exile still calls himself a “son of the regime.” Mr. Al Attiya frowns at those who oppose the Qatari government despite the fact he was not spared injustice either. He was thrown into prison for 15 months in 1999 and tortured before his nationality was stripped.

Mr. Al Attiya’s fury is directed solely at Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim, the former Qatari prime minister he sued in a British court upon his release. He claimed that his former boss ordered his incarceration, torture, and the illegal confiscation of his land.

The court ruled last February that the former prime minister could not be sued because he has diplomatic immunity. According to the court order, Mr. Bin Jassim was listed as a “minister-counsellor” at the Qatari embassy in London only six months after he resigned from his post in 2013.

“Bin Jassim stated to the British press on several counts that he is a ‘private citizen’ so it's obvious that he was listed at the embassy only to dismiss my case,” a resilient Mr. Al Attiya told me as he strategized with his lawyer for an appeal hearing in London set for Jan. 17 but may possibly be postponed.

Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world and will be the first Arab country to host a soccer World Cup in 2022.

Instead of spending millions of dollars on high-priced Western public relations companies to whitewash its poor human rights record, Qatar should release Mr. Al Malki and his cousin from prison.

Editor's Note: At 9:00 p.m. E.T. on Jan. 13, 2016, this story was corrected from a previous version, which stated that 18 people sentenced to death in May 2001, including Al Malki, were part of the coup instigated by the father of the current Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani. The correct information is that they were sentenced for being part of the failed counter coup instigated by the deposed father of the former Emir Sheikh Hamad Al Thani. A quote from Fawaz Al Attiya was also removed and replaced by his corroboration of the Fahad Al Malki story.

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