BEN FLANAGAN | Arab News Staff | Published — Friday 15 September 2017
The London conference was organized by Khalid Al-Hail, spokesman for Qatar National Democratic Parrty.
LONDON: Qatari exiles gathered at a conference in the UK on Thursday called for international assistance to end their “suffering,” a day after it emerged that Doha had stripped 55 nationals of citizenship.
The opposition event was held in London amid high security, with some speaking about their plight publicly for the first time.
In a panel discussion chaired by the veteran BBC journalist John Simpson, one Qatari exile described how he had been stripped of his citizenship.
Mohammed Al-Murri made a plea for Saudi Arabia and the UK to help. He asked the UK, with its history of democracy, to address the human rights issues in Qatar in order to “put an end to our suffering,” he told the conference.
“All of us were deprived of our passports … It is impossible for us to accept this,” he said.
It emerged earlier this week that Qatar has stripped 55 members of the Al-Murrah tribe of their citizenship, including its head Sheikh Taleb, in a move slammed as “collective punishment” by human rights groups. It follows a previous move by Doha to force 6,000 tribal members to flee the country, according to reports.
Al-Murri claimed to be related to Sheikh Taleb, although this could not immediately be independently verified. “Unfortunately the Qataris took away the nationality from the … tribe,” he told the conference in London. “Even though we are Qataris through and through, we are suffering.”
Al-Murri said his father had been imprisoned in Qatar, while he had not been able to see his mother before she died. “My father was tortured,” he said. “My mother suffered from cancer until she died, but we could not visit her … We have been suffering for decades now and we would like to see a solution.”
Al-Murri was addressing the “Qatar, Global Security & Stability Conference,” which was held amid the diplomatic row between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
Opposition member Khalid Al-Hail, spokesman for the Qatar National Democratic Party and organizer of the conference, reiterated claims that Qatar supports terror groups. Doha denies the charges. “I represent the voice that is not being listened to by the world … The voice of the Qatari people,” he said.
Al-Hail said that Qatar supports terror groups like Al-Nusra Front — which is now known as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham — along with Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Qatar is harboring fugitives and extremists,” he claimed. Al-Hail also pointed to Qatar’s alleged ties with Tehran, something he believes is at odds with the interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). “We had problems because Iranians always had their eye on Qatar… You cannot be a friend of Iran and claim to be a friend of the GCC,” he said.
“Most of the illicit trade that finds its way into Qatari markets come through Iran.”
The conference also heard from Thomas Mace Archer-Mills, a constitutional expert, who said Doha’s claims that the country is a constitutional monarchy amounts to “whitewashing.”
Qatar’s funding of the Al Jazeera media network was also raised at the London conference, with former employee Mohammed Fahmy taking aim at the channel’s editorial line.
Fahmy worked in Cairo for Al Jazeera English, but was arrested and spent time in prison on charges that after allegations, he and colleagues filed reports that were damaging to Egypt’s national security.
After his release Fahmy initiated legal proceedings against Al Jazeera; he told the London conference that the network did not reflect the concerns of Qatari citizens.
“They say ‘we are the voice of the voiceless.’ Where is the voice of the Qataris? Where is the voice of the Qatari opposition?,” he said. “That is the problem with Al Jazeera.”
The conference in London was held amid tight security, with police, sniffer dogs and private security guards patrolling the site.
Organizer Al-Hail said attempts had been made to prevent the event from going ahead, and that he has fears about his personal safety due to his opposition activities.
“I fear for my life. I have a very big genuine fear of persecution from Qatar. I know what these guys are doing, and they have lots of bad history,” he told Arab News in an interview earlier this week.