(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

At least 117 people were charged in connection with the coup attempt of February 1996. Forty of them were charged in absentia; the other 77 were held incommunicado and without access to a lawyer until trial hearings began at the end of the year. Some of the detainees alleged that they were tortured. In a separate case, a man was reported to have died in custody, allegedly as a result of torture.

The government of the Amir, al-Shaikh Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al-Thani, stated that Qatar would abide by all international human rights treaties. However, no steps were known to have been taken by the government to accede to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

At least 117 people were charged in connection with the attempt to overthrow the government in February 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997). They were tried in two separate groups before a criminal court in Doha. The hearings involving a first group of 110 defendants, 40 in absentia, began on 26 November; the trial was then postponed until February 1998. Approximately 12 of the 70 defendants who appeared before the court had been detained during the year, including Hassan Hilal Hassan al-Muhandi, a police officer, who was reportedly arrested in March in Doha. The remaining defendants before the court had been arrested in 1996. Among them were reported to be a number of foreign nationals, including Palestinians, Saudi Arabians, Bahrainis and Egyptians. They included Brigadier Bakhit Marzug, Lieutenant-Colonel ‘Abd al-Hadi Rashid Sihabi and Lieutenant-Colonel Rashid ‘Ali. The trial of the second group, comprising seven Qatar nationals, started on 17 December and was continuing at the end of the year. Until their court appearances all 77 detainees had been held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers. Some of the defendants claimed that they had been tortured in order to force them to make a confession.

In a separate case, Musfir al-Marri, a businessman, was reported to have died in custody days after his arrest in July or August, allegedly as a result of torture. The Amir reportedly undertook to carry out a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Musfir al-Marri's death. It was not known whether such an investigation had been carried out.

Amnesty International delegates visited Qatar in May and raised with members of the judiciary and government officials concerns about the lengthy incommunicado detention without trial of those held in connection with the coup attempt of February 1996. The officials maintained that these conditions of detention were justified on the grounds of continuing investigation. However, they offered Amnesty International delegates access to some of the detainees and undertook to give the defendants a fair trial. On 25 November Amnesty International received an invitation to attend the trial of the first group of defendants. The organization was intending to send observers when the trial resumed in 1998

Amnesty International delegates also raised the case of an Iraqi asylum-seeker, Ghanima Nimr, who had been detained with her two children following entry into Qatar during the year. The government assured the organization that she would not be forcibly returned to Iraq, where she would have been at risk of grave human rights violations. Ghanima Nimr and her two sons were subsequently released and resettled in the United Kingdom

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