Death sentence against Jordanian journalist upheld

New York, January 25, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about an appeals court ruling yesterday in Qatar’s capital, Doha, confirming a death sentence against Jordanian journalist Firas al-Majali on charges of espionage.

Al-Majali, a news editor for Qatari state television, has been in detention since January 2002. He was originally sentenced to death on charges of spying on Qatar for Jordan on October 22, 2002.

According to Issa al-Mannai, al-Majali’s lawyer, the accusations of espionage stemmed from e-mails al-Majali allegedly sent to Jordanian intelligence officials. Qatari authorities contend that the e-mails contained sensitive information about U.S. troop activities in Qatar, Qatar’s ruling family, and relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Al-Mannai said that the information in the e-mails, which he claimed could not be traced to al-Majali, was public. The lawyer told CPJ that al-Majali had originally confessed to the charge, but later rescinded his confession.

Relations between Jordan and Qatar have been strained since June 2001 when Qatari authorities deported a Jordanian national—who had been living in exile in Qatar because of his alleged activities in the Palestinian militant group Hamas—back to Jordan. Relations were further strained in August 2002 when Jordan banned the Qatar-based satellite news channel Al-Jazeera from operating in the country after the station broadcast a program that Jordanian authorities considered an insult to the Jordanian royal family.

Some observers think that al-Majali’s Jordanian citizenship, not his journalistic activities, may be the reason behind the accusations of espionage.

Qatar’s Emir must approve the death sentence and has the power to pardon al-Majali.