MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on Qatar

January 4, 2017

HH Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani
Emir of Qatar
c/o Her Excellency Sheikha Alya Bint Ahmed Bin Saif Al Thani
Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations
qatar@un.int 
fax 212-758-4952

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates
fax +971 2 668 6622

HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum    
Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates info@primeminister.ae
fax +971 4 330 404 

HE Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani
Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of Qatar  
info@moi.gov.qa
fax +971 4 323 339

HE Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of the Interior in the United Arab Emirates
moi@moi.gov.ae
fax +971 2 4022762; 971 2 4415780

Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to strongly protest the decision of the Qatari Ministry of Interior, apparently on the basis of information provided by the government of the United Arab Emirates, to deny a student visa to Kristina Bogos and place her on a GCC-wide blacklist. Ms. Bogos is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and formerly an undergraduate student at New York University (NYU), who had spent a semesterat NYU Abu Dhabi. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Ms. Bogos studies labor and migration, with a special focus on the treatment of migrant workers in states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. She had planned to conduct research in Qatar for her Master’s thesis during the fall 2016 semester, while based at Georgetown University’s Doha campus as an official matriculated student. When she arrived at the Doha airport in June 2016, she was initially denied entry but was eventually granted a 30-day tourist visa. In August, however, her application for a student visa was denied.  There appears to be good reason to suspect that Ms. Bogos was placed on a GCC blacklist because of her proposed research topic and because, while studying abroad as an undergraduate student at NYU Abu Dhabi in fall 2013 and winter 2014, she had voiced criticism of the conditions to which workers involved in building that institution’s new campus on Saadiyat Island were being subjected. Furthermore, Ms. Bogos’ personal email account was hacked in April 2016, after which she received unsigned email messages informing her that UAE authorities had “warned” the Qatari authorities about her. As Ms. Bogos put it in an op-ed piece published in the New York Times on December 15, 2016, “Qatari immigration officers informed me that my name appeared on a ‘blacklist’ maintained by member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council because I had ‘made trouble’ in the U.A.E. Later, Emirati officials told the State Department that they had placed me on the blacklist for unspecified ‘security-related reasons.’”

Refusal to provide Ms. Bogos a student visa, apparently on the grounds of her research topic and/or positions she has taken regarding labor and migration in the Gulf, is a clear violation of academic freedom. Furthermore, that this decision was taken on the basis of information provided by the United Arab Emirates suggests that there is regional coordination to blacklist certain individuals from pursuing their scholarship on and in GCC states.  We regard such refusals to grant visas to scholars and students, and the compilation and use of blacklists apparently shared among the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as blatant violations of the principles of academic freedom.  Equally troubling are practices such as regional coordination to follow individuals and/or enforce denial of entry to certain individuals, as well as cyberspying and bullying.

Moreover, this is, unfortunately, not the first time that an infringement upon the academic freedom of a foreign scholar pursuing research in the GCC has been reported. Indeed, we wrote to the UAE Minister of the Interior (March 25, 2015) when Professor Andrew Ross of New York University was denied entry into Abu Dhabi.

We are, therefore, extremely concerned that these actions on the part of the Qatari and Emirati governments relative to Ms. Kristina Bogos, following upon the earlier treatment by the UAE authorities of Professor Andrew Ross, suggest a new, and dangerous pattern -- one that threatens not only the universal human right to freedom of movement as stated in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also academic freedom. Academic institutions are built on a foundation upholding academic freedom and protecting scholarly inquiry. To attack this foundation is to threaten the entire enterprise of universities in the Gulf. We are worried about the future of research in Qatar and the UAE that may be deemed critical or controversial.

In order to protect the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, and to uphold international law pertaining to the movement of persons and freedom of mobility, we appeal to you to rescind the Interior Ministry’s decision to deny a visa to Kristina Bogos and lift the ban on her visits to and work in Qatar. We further call upon you to desist -- both independently and collectively -- from creating blacklists of students and scholars who are to be denied entry to Qatar, the UAE (and presumably other GCC states) for political reasons. More broadly, we urge you to affirm your commitment to academic freedom and the freedom of students and scholars to pursue their scholarship in your countries without impediments or harassment of any type. 

We look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Beth Baron                                                                               
MESA President
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

cc:

HE Mohammed bin Jaham Al-Kuwari, Ambassador of Qatar to the United States (washington@mofa.gov.qa; fax 202 237 0682)

HE Yussef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States (fax 202-243-2432)

January 15, 2016

His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani
c/o Her Excellency Sheikha Alya Bint Ahmed Bin Saif Al Thani
Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations
809 United Nations Plaza, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10017
qatar@un.int
Fax: 212-758-4952

Your Highness,

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express grave concern regarding the continued imprisonment of Mr. Mohammed al-Ajami.  Mr. Ajami, a Qatari citizen and a poet, was arrested in Doha in November 2011 on charges related to the private recitation of his own poetry.  Since then, he has been held in solitary confinement in Doha’s Central Prison.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.   

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Ajami was a third-year literature student at Cairo University.  He was summoned for questioning by Qatar’s security forces in Doha on November 16, 2011, and charged two days later with “encouraging an attempt to overthrow the existing regime” and “criticizing the Emir.”  These charges stem from two poems that he composed while studying in Cairo.  One of these poems was never written down but was recited orally at a private “poetry slam” held by Cairo University students in Mr. Ajami’s apartment in August 2010; it was surreptitiously recorded and posted online.  Mr. Ajami’s case file includes responses to the poem by three poets employed by Qatar’s Ministry of Culture, who argue that the poem is a veiled call to challenge the authority and competence of the Qatari government.  The second poem, “Jasmine,” which Mr. Ajami wrote in 2011, expresses support for the December 2010 popular uprising in Tunisia; like the first poem, it was surreptitiously recorded and posted online. 

Mr. Ajami’s 2012 trial in Doha’s Criminal Court took place in secret, and Mr. Ajami himself was repeatedly barred from the courtroom while his defense attorney was prevented from presenting oral arguments.  On November 29, 2012, the Criminal Court convicted Mr. Ajami of the above-mentioned charges and sentenced him to life in prison.  In February 2013, this sentence was reduced to fifteen years on appeal.  Qatar’s Supreme Court confirmed this reduced sentence on October 21, 2013, despite arguments that the charges and the trial were fundamentally flawed.  
Since his arrest, Mr. Ajami has been held in solitary confinement.  His visitation rights are severely limited, which is a clear violation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.  In October 2013, representatives of PEN International were prevented from visiting him despite having been informed that their visit had been approved by the Qatari authorities.

In composing and reciting these two poems, Mr. Ajami was exercising his right to freedom of expression.  In addition, his recitation of these poems was not accompanied by any type of threatening remarks or actions directed against the Qatari government.

Mr. Ajami is forty years old, married, and the father of four children, the youngest of whom was born while the poet was in prison.  His lengthy detention simply for reciting poetry is a violation of his cultural and political rights, including, most importantly, freedom of expression, a right enshrined in Articles 47-48 of Qatar’s constitution.  Meanwhile, his solitary confinement and enforced separation from his family are cruel and inhumane, according to Rule 37 of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

MESA therefore calls upon the government of Qatar to enforce the tenets of Qatar’s constitution, to uphold international standards of justice, and to comply with internationally accepted rights of academic freedom and freedom of speech by securing Mr. Ajami’s immediate release.    

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Beth Baron                                                                               
MESA President
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona
 

cc:

  • The Honorable Mohammad Jaham al-Kuwari, Ambassador of the State of Qatar to the United States

  • The Honorable Hassan Lahdan Al Mohannadi, Minister of Justice of the State of Qatar

 

 



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