Citing “humanitarian reasons,” a lower criminal court judge in Doha has ordered journalists to stop reporting on a case involving a young Palestinian boy who drowned at a Qatar water park in 2012.
The judge issued the ban at the request of the victim’s sister during a court session yesterday. She said that media coverage of the legal proceedings was hurting her family by reminding them of their loss.
This appears to be one of the first times in recent years that such a reason has been used as justification for preventing the details of a case from being reported.
Three individuals and two companies are on trial for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the child’s death.
They are accused of recklessly failing to properly perform their duties at the Aqua Park, which is located approximately 40km from Doha.
Following the court session, the judge told reporters that he was ordering the publication ban in an effort to protect the family’s feelings.
Journalists will be allowed to attend the hearings, but may not publish any witness testimony until a verdict is issued.
Though the media is usually allowed to report on criminal trials in Qatar, sweeping publication bans are occasionally imposed. In 2013, Doha News was prevented from reporting the proceedings of several hearings about the fatal Villaggio Mall fire.
And last year, Qatar’s attorney general issued a temporary ban on coverage of the Istanbul Restaurant gas explosion during the investigation phase, ahead of the trial.
Judges will also sometimes place bans on publishing specific witness testimony or graphic pieces of evidence.
Far more frequently, however, these officials turn down requests by lawyers to bar journalists from reporting on a trial.
For example, the same judge hearing the Aqua Park case rejected a defense attorney’s plea to issue a publication ban on the trial of a Moroccan man charged with stabbing another expat to death with a sword.
And other judges overseeing the ongoing Villaggio Mall fire appeal have consistently refused to issue publication bans requested by defense lawyers, arguing that the sessions are “public hearings.”
The defendants charged in connection with the Aqua Park drowning include an administrative supervisor and two contractors – a lifeguard and a Doha Clinic paramedic.
The facility’s owner, Hala Co. for Projects Aqua Park, is also named as a defendant, as is Kuwait-based Al Jazeera Co. for Commercial Projects, which is contracted to manage the property.
All have pled not guilty.
During a hearing last month, witnesses testified that several things went wrong the day the boy drowned on May 4, 2012, raising the possibility that multiple factors – including inadequate supervision – contributed to the victim’s death.
The next hearing is scheduled for May 24.