Who Dares Speak in Qatar
Wednesday، 14 October 2020 - 05:18 PM
(A summary of an Arabic Report by SIS on Freedom of Expression in Qatari Laws)
The government of Qatar has created a sea of lies and used it to jeopardize the stability and security of many nations under the pretext of defending and propagating freedom of opinion and expression.
Of course they mean freedom of opinion and expression to everyone except the people of Qatar. The Qatari regime has muzzled the Qatari people and deprived them from their inalienable right to freedom of expression through a bunch of brutal and oppressive laws. Actually if these laws are applied to a Qatari citizen who attempts to emulate the conduct of Al Jazeera and its employees in his/her own country he/she would definitely spend a great many years in Jail.
The mere existence of such laws serves to smother the voice of the helpless people of Qatar while their oppressive regime preaches freedom and democracy to other Nations and governments. Such behaviour by the Qatari regime can only be perceived as hypocritical to say the least.
This report tackles 3 such laws that restrict freedom of opinion and expression. These laws are the Penal Code, the Cybercrime Law and the Printing and Publication Law.
The Penal Code
Article 115 of the penal code punishes those who spread false date or rumours concerning the Qatari State abroad with a 5-year prison sentence; and at times of war this penalty is doubled to 10 years in prison. This is quite ironic as Qatar offers itself as a platform for those who spread misinformation about their own countries, bearing in mind that most of the times they come from States that are at odds with Qatar and its irresponsible policies that threaten regional stability. Article 122 of the penal code lands a 5-year prison sentence on those who provide any footage or maps or documents or any form information regarding the situation in Qatar to a foreign country. Indeed, this means that any Qatari correspondent to a foreign entity faces the danger of imprisonment at any moment under such conditions and again ironically Al Jazeera engages in the same activities criminalized by Qatari laws but against other nations. According to article 125 that merely discussing the affairs or mentioning the movements of the Qatari Armed Forces without prior authorization is punished by 3 years in jail and a hefty fine. Article 134 of the same penal code criminalizes what it calls contempt of the Emir, his deputy and the crown prince. The article punishes anyone who “insults” the aforementioned figures with 5 years in prison. As if such arbitrary oppression wasn’t enough, the article also punishes those who question the powers of the Emir with 5 years in prison. So much for freedom of expression in Qatar.
The Qatari regime was not content with his arsenal of laws to limit freedom of opinion and expression. Therefor the Emir of Qatar issued in 2020 a new article that was added to the penal code (Article 136 bis, added under: Law 2/2020), as another sword to be held over the neck of opponents and journalists, who dare express their opinion regarding any matters of State. Article (136 bis) of the Penal Code stipulates that “anyone who broadcasts, publishes, or re-publishes false rumours, statements, or news, shall be punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years and a fine not exceeding (100,000) one hundred thousand riyals. The penalty stipulated in the preceding article is doubled if the crime occurs in wartime.
The Qatari legislator used these broad terms, without setting a specific definition for them, so that the regime can abuse any citizen, let alone a dissident or a journalist.
In 2014 the Emir of Qatar issued a new legislation to silence any form of criticism with its loose articles under the pretext of combating cybercrime. Article 6 of this law says that anyone who establishes or administers a website to spread false news will be sentenced to 3 years in prison and pay a hefty fine of half a million riyals. Article 8 of the same law states that anyone who violates the societal traditions and principles through spreading fake news or footage or voice recordings shall be imprisoned for 3 years and will pay a fine of 100,000 riyals. The law came up with the crime of violating “social principles or values,” and the purpose of this can only be understood as an attempt to abuse citizens and prevent them exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Printing and Publication Law
While many States including Egypt elected to allow the establishment of newspapers upon notification, Qatar still maintains Law No. (8) for the year 1979 to regulate the work of publications, including press publications, and stipulating in it that it is not permissible for a publication to begin working without a license from the State. This law has also devoted its seventh Chapter to imposing penalties on journalists and press workers, and these penalties varied between freedom-depriving penalties, fines, shutting down institutions and confiscating publications.
If a journalist commits any of the following acts he/she can be sentenced to up to 6 months in prison:
1. Issuing a newspaper without a written license
2. Not informing the authorities 8 days prior to any changes made to the information provided in the news paper’s license
3. Changing a News Paper’s address without license
4. Not appointing an Editor in Chief, or an Editor for each department
5. Publishing a statement or announcement made by a foreign country without authorization
6. A foreign correspondent working without a permit.
Article 75 of the law specifies several cases where workers at a publishing house can be imprisoned for 3 months, and those cases are as follows:
1. If a publishing house works without a written permit
2. If a publishing house prints a copy of anything without a permit
3. If a publishing house is established without a permit
Article 76 of the law imposes a 1-month prison sentence in the following cases:
1. If the owner or the manager of the printing house or the publishing house is not Qatari, or if he/she is less than 21 years of age, or if he/she was found guilty for a criminal offense
2. If the owner of the publishing house or its manager are engaged in work with a foreign country.
3. If the manager presides over more than one publishing house
The law stipulates in five of its articles the penalty of closure of printing and publishing establishments. The allows the State to Shutdown newspapers if they fail to obtain a permit, or if it changes its address without authorization. It allows the closure of publishing houses for similar reasons.
The law also allows the State to confiscate publications at will. It specified many cases were a newspaper maybe confiscated for reasons similar to the imprisonment of its personnel like issuing a newspaper is without a written permit or not having an editor in chief a given newspaper.
As we have seen the Qatari regime’s legal arsenal is nothing short of a vehicle of repression that allows the Emir and his cronies to silence dissidents and muzzle the press with impunity. Quite ironic that such a regime actually dares criticize other nation’s records regarding freedom of opinion and expression.