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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Australian university professor and son detained in Qatar for five months without charge

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The arbitrary arrest came three months before the U.S. accused Professor Lukman Thalib’s Australian-based son of being a “financial facilitator” of al-Qaida.

A Qatar University professor and his son have been detained without charge for almost five months in an undisclosed location, the Guardian reported on Monday. 

Professor Lukman Thalib, 58, the head of the Department of Public Health at Qatar University and was recently working on the country’s Scientific Reference and Research Task Force established to help fight the spread of COVID-19 in the country. 

One day, that all changed. 

Thalib and his 24 year old son Ismail, were suddenly arrested from their home on July 27th by security forces in Doha, according to London-based advocacy organisation CAGE, which campaigns against unlawful imprisonments in terrorism related cases.  

“This action by the Qatar authorities, believed to be in complicity with the US, bear the hallmarks of the early years of the War on Terror during which, governments across the world would abduct and disappear innocent men at the behest of the CIA,” said Naila Ahmed, Head of Casework at CAGE

Qatar has not charged Thalib or his son, who trace their family roots to Srilanka, with any crime. However it is believed their detention has come at the request of US intelligence officials acting on information provided by Sri Lankan authorities. 

The detention of the Australian nationals came three months before the US Treasury Department issued a statement alleging that Thalib’s other son, who lives in Melbourne  – Ahmed Luqman Thalib – had been providing “financial or material support” to Al-Qa’idat through his gemstone company which is based in the Australian capital.

Similar to all other GCC member states, Qatar does not have an extradition agreement with the United States, however in 2017 Doha and Washington did sign a memorandum of understanding on countering and combatting terrorism. Among other things, the MOU was described as paving the way for greater cooperation between the two countries.

The US State Department issued a statement on the Professor’s Australia based son claiming that “Thalib has had financial dealings in a number of countries, and his business dealing in gemstones has provided him the ability to move funds internationally for the benefit of AQ.”

Despite the US’ claims, Ahmed remains free, and has not been arrested or charged by the Australian police.

Meanwhile in Doha, where professor Thalib and his son Ismail have been living for almost five years, the family claims the pair were denied communication with their loved ones for the first 40 days after their arrest, leaving them with little to no clue about their whereabouts. 

Read also: Afghan peace talks to resume in January.

Although the Australian based son, Ahmed has not been charged of any crimes by authorities there and is set to challenge the US’s designation, CAGE said it believed the father and son’s arrest in Qatar are part of what it described as “collective punishment on the family”.

Maryam Luqman Talib, Prof Thalib’s daughter, told British based newspaper, The Guardian that her family has “gone through what can almost be described as hell” over the past five months.

“I won’t lie, I won’t lie it has been painful and devastating,” she said. “My mum is older, both my parents are elderly … of course it’s been a very, very tough time. It’s just been quite devastating for us just being kept in the dark on so many things.”

Professor Thalib is now being allowed to make phone calls to the family, but the incarcerated son has not been heard from since his arrest. They both continue to be held without charge or trial or any legal representation.

Seeking clarification for the detention, the family reached out to the Australian government for assistance through its embassy in Doha. After visiting the detainees in recent months, Australian authorities told their family “it is still attempting to clarify the nature of the investigation and the charges being considered against the pair”. 

However, the family says that the level of support from the Australian government falls short of what they expected, particularly considering that Professor Thalib was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) in 2005. Although he entered into remission, he is required to maintain checkups every three months due to his high risk of relapsing.

“There are serious fears about their deteriorating medical condition. Professor Thalib is believed to have lost 25kg, is fed liquids only, has missed two Leukaemia check-ups and is on medication for bradycardia (lower heart rate than normal) and hypotension (extremely low blood pressure),” CAGE said in a press release. 

“His continued incarceration will only further deteriorate his condition. Little is known about his son’s health condition and wellbeing due to the complete legal blackhole they find themselves in.”

Doha News has reached out to the Australian Embassy and Qatar’s Government Communications Office for comment but have not received any response at the time of publication.

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