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Qatar: Life sentences handed to election protesters

Members of Al Murrah tribe have complained of discrimination after being denied the right to vote
Qatari election officials count ballots at a polling station in the capital Doha, on October 2, 2021, after the polls closed on the country's first ever legislative vote (AFP)

Qatar has sentenced four men to prison, two of them for life, for taking part in protests against discriminatory election rules.

According to documents seen by Reuters, the four men were convicted on Tuesday on several charges, including gathering masses to demand changes to laws, threatening Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, refusing police orders to leave and disturbing public security.

The four men are members of the Al Murrah tribe, one of the largest tribes in the Gulf. Al Murrah members have been increasingly angry over the past year due to an electoral law brought in by the Qatari government that excludes many of them from voting.

Some members of the tribe allege they have been collectively punished over Al Murrah's involvement in a 1996 coup attempt in the Gulf state. In 2005, a number of members of the tribe were stripped of their citizenship, with the government alleging they were dual nationals.

'Instead of locking away state critics, the authorities must respect the basic and inalienable rights of all of their residents'

- Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty

Protests erupted in August 2021 against the election law - as well as what members of the tribe say is discrimination in other areas of life such as healthcare, education and employment - leading to arrests.

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Hazaa Abu Shraydeh al-Marri and Rashid Ali al-Marri, both lawyers, were given life sentences on Tuesday.

Two other men, described as exiled poets who appeared in online videos linked to the protests, were also sentenced to 15 years in absentia.

The convictions have been condemned by rights groups who claim Qatar is trying to quell dissent ahead of football's World Cup in November.

“In a closed-door trial, the court sentenced these four activists to appalling prison terms on bogus charges of inciting violence, when they had simply exercised their right to peaceful protest. Their convictions and sentences must be quashed," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement.

“It is baffling that the Qatari authorities would punish these men while attempting to improve their human rights reputation before the 2022 Fifa World Cup," Maalouf said. 

"Instead of locking away state critics, the authorities must respect the basic and inalienable rights of all of their residents. They should also heed the protesters’ call to amend the country’s discriminatory electoral laws.”

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