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  • Writer's pictureDetained in Dubai

Qatar human rights violations liable to be sued in UK

Joseph Sarlak, Ranald Crook and Jonathan Nash - Detained in Doha

When foreigners move to Qatar, it’s usually on the basis of an invitation, a business opportunity or a job. Doha doesn’t have the same “lifestyle appeal” that Dubai has built up; but for expats, a few years in a hot climate, perhaps with a Sheraton club membership, doesn’t sound all that bad.

Most invites are extended to industry experts, particularly in the construction industry, project managers, architects, lawyers and directors. With a commitment to growth, Qatar offers a great number of opportunities to those willing to do a few years in the gulf and of course, can be an attractive alternative to those who were forced to leave Dubai during the world economic crisis and who can not return.

Qatar’s gulf neighbours have attracted so much negative international press coverage for their own violations and blockading Qatar seemed to cause the international community to feel more sympathetic towards the country, perhaps even seeing it as more Western leaning. Qatar has not been ridiculed for jailing tourists like the UAE has. So why not pursue that opportunity?

Three men have become the voice of hundreds; Brits Jonathan Nash, Ranald Crook and Australian Joseph Sarlak.

Jonathan Nash, 50, has been stuck in filthy conditions after being sentenced to 37 years in prison for company cheques that bounced. He did not benefit from the cheques, there was no fraud and despite appeals to the Emir and to the British FCO, no efforts have been made to review the case. Under Qatar’s own laws, unlike the UAE, the circumstances of the cheques are supposed to be considered by the court; however, in Jonathan’s case, he was never even permitted to submit evidence to the court.

Australian, 71 year old Joseph Sarlak, who suffers from multiple medical conditions, feared he would die in prison. He was jailed for bounced cheques after being scapegoated by members of the Al Thani ruling clan. Though he was eventually released from prison, he continues to suffer from an exit ban that prevents him from returning home to his family.

Then we have 73 year old Ranald Crook, who has been the target of an onslaught of fabricated allegations by his former business partners who are closely connected to the ruling family. Ranald Crook has been able to prove his innocence again and again, but his Qatari abusers just open more cases to torment him and prevent him from being able to return to the UK. He has suffered for years in this dire position, missing his grandchild, his father’s death and enduring long periods of separation from his wife.

The consistency amongst these (public) cases is clear evidence that Qatar is an unsafe place for foreigners to work or invest in. Until these men are freed and safeguards put in place to ensure cases like theirs will not be repeated; the climate will remain dangerous in Doha.

Locals in gulf nations have seen foreign investors as “prey”. Foreigners come into the country, bringing their experience and often, a substantial financial investment and join forces with a local partner who becomes their sponsor. The relationship is symbiotic, allowing the expat to reside in the country and do business, working with a partner who understands the local environment. Perhaps, they understand it a little too well. They understand that when a business becomes successful, they can either share with their partner as per their agreement or they can take it all for themselves. They understand that they can embezzle company funds and have their partner jailed for bouncing the cheques when they invariably bounce due to lack of funds. In short, they understand that as a local, they can work the system to their financial advantage, whatever the cost is to the unsuspecting expat. As soon as the judicial system allows for its manipulation by a portion of society, it becomes an almost too tempting opportunity.

It seems impossible to achieve justice in gulf nations, at least easily. For those who know how to manipulate gulf legal systems and for those who are willing, it has been a fraudsters paradise. Money laundering, gold frauds, real estate and property development schemes. The governments themselves and the royal families have been exploiting the archaic environment, setting a fine example to their subjects to follow suit.

But the cycle of unaccountability can only be short lived. Where there is exploitation and abuse as in history, people will seek and find a way to end it. As the gulf grows, they have sought to invest abroad, particularly in the UK and US. In fact, BBC said in 2017 that Qatar owns more of London than the queen with an estimated 40 billion invested into real estate, banks, hotels, businesses and newspapers. With Qatar’s investment into the UK, comes their litigation risk.

While Qataris may feel invincible in their own jurisdiction, most are probably not aware that those who they have jailed, detained or stolen from, can sue them in England or the US. Legal abuse, fraud and wrongful imprisonment suffered by expats in Qatar, can be heard in Western courtrooms where the consequences for Qataris can be severe. Qatar banks can also find themselves on the other end of litigation for wrongfully reporting debtors to Interpol. Once victims start seeing a path to justice and once assailants realise they could be liable outside of Qatar, they may think twice about abusing their local system, even if they are able to do so at the time.

The Qatari government needs to create a safe environment for investors and expats who are contributing enormously to Qatar’s growth.

The cases of Joseph Sarlak, Jonathan Nash and Ranald Crook will be reviewed by the United Nations Working Group for Arbitrary Detentions in Geneva which we hope will encourage the Qatari government to finally review the cases of these innocent men, and put safeguards in place to protect foreigners in the future.

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