By Jujhar Khalsa
For Qatar it appears to be a case of too little too late as its apparent effort to appease Saudi Arabia has failed to reduce tension with its neighbor while bringing condemnation from a human rights group.
Even as Saudi Arabia and other regional allies severed diplomatic ties with Qatar earlier this month, Qatar is accused of violating international law by deporting a Saudi human rights activist back home to face a range of serious political charges.
Mohammad al-Oteibi had fled to Qatar this past March. On May 25, he was detained at Doha’s Hamad International airport attempting to leave Qatar and deported to Saudi Arabia. Al-Oteibi now faces charges for his work in human rights activism in Saudi Arabia.
“Without knowing this specific case too well, it definitely looks like an attempt to defuse tensions and facilitate rapprochement,” said Oded Berkowitz, a research consultant at Max Security. “It’s possible that the Qataris sensed that fallout is about to unfold after Trump’s visit to the region…and attempted to seize the initiative and try to prevent, or limit the extent of it.”
Instead, tensions have continued to mount and Qatar has brought fresh criticism upon itself. “Qatar risked the safety of Mohammad al-Oteibi by returning him to an unfair trial in Saudi Arabia,” said Ahmed Benchemsi from the Human Rights Watch. “Mohammad El Oteibi’s trial is related to a human rights organization he set up in 2013,” he said.
Human Rights Watch reports that Al-Oteibi faces a number of charges involving activities most Westerners take for granted, including “participation in forming an association and announcing it before acquiring the necessary license,” “participation in drafting, issuing, and signing a number of statements …over internet networks that include offending the reputation of the kingdom…,” and “making international human rights organizations hostile to the kingdom by publishing on a social media site false reports about the kingdom.” .
Benchemsi declined to speculate on the politics behind the transfer though he did note the incident comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Experts say Qatar broke international law by violating the principle of nonrefoulement, which restricts a country from returning an individual if it endangered their life or basic freedoms. This principle restricts a country from sending back people like al-Oteibi if they face unjust treatment like torture or, in this case, long-term imprisonment.
“As we do around the world, we encourage all governments to uphold international humanitarian principles, including that of nonrefoulement,” said a U.S. State Department spokesperson in a written statement to the American Media Institute.
U.S. officials blame the recent diplomatic crisis in the Gulf on the alleged Russian hacking of Qatar’s state media this past May, where positive statements towards Iran and Israel were published, causing tensions between Qatar and its surrounding U.S. allied countries.
Qatar’s assistance to the Saudis is puzzling given recent events. Last month, Qatar claimed its official news agency was hacked, after an article was published stating the Arab nation’s leader had praised Iran and Israel. Even as Qatar denied the report, Saudi Arabia and several of its regional allies continued to publicize the inflammatory statements.
They were also used as a basis for the June 5 decision by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, and Yemen to cut off all ties with Qatar. They also closed their air and sea ports to Qatari traffic and barred its state-run airline from crossing their air spaces. The United Arab Emirates even asked its people to quit their jobs in Qatar and come home.
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