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Professor tortured in Qatar placed on Australian terror watchlist

Lukman Thalib was blocked from returning home to Australia after he was put on a Temporary Exclusion Order
Thalib (r) said Qatar tortured and imprisoned him for five months without charge or trial (Supplied)

An Australian professor was placed on a terror watchlist by Australia and blocked from returning home to see his family after Qatar allegedly tortured him, a rights group said on Friday.

According to the UK-based advocacy group Cage, Professor Lukman Thalib fled to Turkey after he developed health complications following his imprisonment by Qatar for five months. 

Thalib, 60, said that Qatar imprisoned and tortured him without charge or trial in July 2020, and that authorities had allegedly deprived him of sunlight for three months, gassed him in his room and subjected him to psychological torture by his guards. 

I was abducted, placed in a gas chamber and tortured... even after my release, I was denied justice and the right to return home by my government'

- Professor Lukman Thalib

Guards then allegedly forced him to sign documents written in Arabic and to identify pictures of individuals shown to him. 

Cage said it has been helping Thalib seek justice after Qatar released him on 24 December 2020.

Thalib, a biostatistics professor, was the head of the public health department at Qatar University. He helped establish the institution's medical school and served as an adviser to Qatar's Scientific Reference and Research Task Force during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His son, Ismail Thalib, 30, was also detained in an undisclosed location in Qatar. Ismail worked in Qatar as a computer engineer for the Al Jazeera network in Doha. 

Following their arrest, the United States Treasury designated Professor Thalib's other son, Talib, as having provided material support to Al Qaeda through his gemstone business in Melbourne, Australia.

Temporary Exclusion Order

Following his release in 2020, Thalib went to Turkey to stay with his daughter for emotional support, after Australia closed its borders during the pandemic. 

During his time in Turkey, Thalib became a faculty member at Aydin University's Department of Medical Science. 

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But when he tried to fly back to Australia for medical treatment last year, Thalib was blocked from returning and found that he was placed on a temporary exclusion order (TEO).

A TEO can be placed against any Australian citizen by the country's home minister due to fears that an individual will be involved in a terror attack or provide support to a terrorist organisation.

The order typically lasts for two years, but the home minister can renew it if they believe there remains a credible threat.

Any Australian citizen placed on a TEO has to get permission from the home minister to come back to Australia, where the minister will issue them a return permit. 

The permit can have restrictions placed on them, including when they have to leave the country or to update them on which address they intend to reside at.

Lack of support from Australia

Thalib said he was "lost for words" when he received news of the TEO from Australia, the only place he has called home.

"I am yet to recover from the shock of not receiving any support from the Australian government as a citizen," Thalib told Middle East Eye. 

"I was abducted, placed in a gas chamber and tortured. To my dismay, not only was I left to the mercy of my captors, but even after my release, I was denied justice and the right to return home by my government."

'I am yet to recover from the shock of not receiving any support from the Australian government as a citizen'

- Thalib

Thalib's lawyer, Abdul Rashid, said there was no basis for the TEO and vowed to fight for his client. 

"The Australian Government's Temporary Exclusion Order against Dr Thalib, preventing his return home to Australia, infringed his human rights recognised under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," Rashid said in a statement. 

"It has been difficult to justify the Order against the world-renowned Doctor who has not engaged or been found guilty of any criminal conduct in Australia or elsewhere."

Anas Mustapha, Head of Public Advocacy at Cage, said the TEO against Thalib flew in the "face of fairness and due process principles".

"No evidence has ever been presented by the Australian authorities. It is right that Professor Thalib demands the Australian authorities to come clean about the extent they had been aware and complicit in his torture," said Mustapha. 

"There are serious ongoing concerns that the confessions taken from Professor Lukman and his son Ismail during their incarceration and torture in Qatar have been used to criminalise his family." 

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