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Monday, March 8, 2021

Report: Doha court suspends jail sentences in septic tank deaths

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Appeals court
Appeals court

Qatar’s Court of Appeal has reduced a fine levied against a local company that was penalized after four of its employees suffocated while cleaning a septic tank in 2013, Al Raya reports.

The fine against the unnamed company was reduced by 95 percent, from QR200,000 (US$54,918) to QR10,000 ($2,746).

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Additionally, the appeal court suspended the six-month jail terms previously given to three of the firm’s employees, who had been convicted by Qatar’s lower criminal court of negligence as well as violating safety and security regulations last year.

A suspended sentence typically means a convicted individual avoids spending any time in jail provided they abide by certain conditions.

In explaining its decision, the appeal court noted that the convicted men had no previous criminal record and were unlikely to commit any additional criminal offenses, Al Raya reported.

However, the appeal court upheld the lower court decision that ordered the company to pay QR200,000 ($54,918) in compensation, or so-called “blood money,” to each of the victim’s families.

The incident

The victims were all Indian expats working at a labor camp in Al Shahaniya. In October 2013, while subcontracted to clean a septic tank, they suffocated after inhaling toxic fumes inside the tank.

Photo for illustrative purposes only
Photo for illustrative purposes only

An Indian embassy official identified the men as Faisal, 30; Ishaq, 26; Muneer, 20; and Mohamed, 57. All were single and from the southern state of Kerala.

During the appeal, defense lawyers argued that the incident was a “sudden accident” and the victims themselves should have been responsible for following safety and security measures, according to Al Raya.

The defense attorneys added that the workers should have known to wear gas masks and carry communication devices, and that not using them was a “grave mistake” on their part – not the company, the newspaper reported.

They also argued that the incident occurred in a residential area housing blue-collar workers, which means the standard health and safety regulations for a construction site shouldn’t apply.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Nevertheless, the original verdict upheld by the appeal court said the company was still responsible for ensuring that the men cleaning the septic tank were properly protected while working in an enclosed area.

Workplace safety has been a matter of growing concern in Qatar, where injuries from building collapses, falls from heights and other construction-related incidents are not uncommon.

The country has been working to mitigate some of these conditions by increasing site inspectors and improving standards as it faces intense international scrutiny ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Previous verdicts

Courts in Qatar have issued several similar verdicts against other companies in Qatar, although human rights organizations say such criminal convictions remain rare.

Under-construction Abraj Towers at the Pearl
Under-construction Abraj Towers at the Pearl

In late March, a local company was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after one of its construction workers was killed working on a sewer project in the Old Airport area.

And in May, a criminal court in Qatar found a local company guilty of negligence and violating safety regulations after a worker fell to his death from an under-construction tower at the Pearl-Qatar.

Both companies were fined thousands of dollars.

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