to a dozen political opponents of the government were detained. Three political trials took place which may not have met international standards of fairness. Allegations of torture were made.

In July the Amir, al-Shaikh Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al-Thani, enacted a law stipulating the establishment, for the first time, of a municipal council to be elected by universal suffrage. The law provides for the right for both men and women to stand for election as well as to vote. The government stated that the municipal elections were expected to take place in March 1999. In November the Amir announced that parliamentary elections would take place following the drawing up of a new constitution. The Amir stated that the parliament would also be elected by universal suffrage.

Up to a dozen political opponents of the government were detained during the year. Most were held in connection with the failed coup attempt of February 1996. Many of them were arrested after being forcibly returned from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen (see United Arab Emirates and Yemen entries). They included Mubarak ‘Abdullah Jassim Al-Malki and deputy head of the intelligence service Fahd ‘Abdullah Jassim Al-Malki, who were forcibly returned from the UAE and Yemen respectively. Their cases were joined to a case already being tried (see below).

The trial of more than 100 people accused in connection with the February 1996 coup attempt (see previous Amnesty International Reports) was continuing before a criminal court in the capital Doha at the end of the year. Most of those arrested during the year had been charged in absentia and appeared before the High Court following their arrest. Many of the defendants in the trial stated in court that their confessions had been obtained as a result of torture.

Two political trials concluded. The first, concluded in February, involved seven people charged with forming an illegal organization and divulging military secrets. Three defendants were convicted of divulging military secrets and sentenced to prison terms; four were acquitted. In June the Court of Appeal found six of the defendants not guilty and reduced the sentence of the seventh defendant from 10 to three years' imprisonment. The second trial involved seven people charged with planting a bomb at the Passport Office in Doha in 1996. In November, five of them were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, one received three years' imprisonment and one was acquitted. The defence claimed that at least some of the defendants were convicted on the basis of testimonies obtained under torture. No ruling on the issue of torture was known to have been made as the appeal proceedings had not been concluded by the end of the year.

Allegations of torture of detainees arrested during the year as well as of those held from previous years were received. In most cases torture was alleged to have occurred immediately following arrest and during interrogation, while the detainees were held in incommunicado detention. Reported methods of torture included beating with truncheons, particularly on the genitals; suspension of the detainees upside down for long periods so that they were compelled to urinate while suspended; dragging of the detainees on the floor; threats of rape or of killings of relatives; and electric shocks. The lawyer of ‘Abd al-Hadi Jaber Hadi al-Rakib stated that his client's "confession" presented by the prosecution was obtained as a result of beatings and of the detention of his client's son in order to force the father to "confess".

An Amnesty International delegation visited Qatar in April. It attended sessions of two political trials and met government officials as well as members of the judiciary. Amnesty International was aware that in some individual cases, judges had ordered investigations into allegations of torture. However, Amnesty International urged the government to carry out independent investigations into all such allegations. It also called for the courts to exclude evidence which had been given under duress. Amnesty International recommended that pre-trial procedures at the military camp and at the Mukhabarat (the secret intelligence unit) in Doha, where most detainees said they had been tortured, should be reviewed in order to limit pre-trial incommunicado detention and the attendant risks of torture and ill-treatment. In response the government pointed out that Qatar's laws and procedures contained safeguards against torture, but did not specify whether any of the allegations of torture brought to its attention were actually investigated.

Amnesty International urged the government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Neither treaty had been ratified by the end of the year.

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