Pressure is mounting over the case of Qatari Sheikh Talal Al Thani – the grandson of the founder of the gas-rich state – after his wife, Asma Arian, submitted an 11th-hour plea for his release at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday.
“My husband needs urgent medical care and a lawyer he chooses freely,” Arian told the UN body in Geneva via video. “An arbitrary 22-year sentence was imposed on him while he was in jail. He is incommunicado in detention and suffers from severe medical conditions he developed in prison.”
Arian, who is waging a David vs. Goliath struggle against the super-wealthy Qatari monarchy, told Fox News that Sheikh Talal is being detained at an unidentified facility and his health is deteriorating “due to torture and ill treatment in prison.”
Qatar’s Islamist regime imprisoned the sheikh, whose full name is Sheikh Talal bin Abdulaziz bin Ahmed bin Ali Al Thani, in 2013 for an allegedly unpaid debt.
Arian and her American attorney, Mark Somos, who was formerly on the faculty of the Harvard Law School, vehemently reject the Qatari regime’s accusation. Arian and Somos argue that Qatar’s opaque justice system carried out a “politically motivated fabrication of the sheikh’s debts.”
Somos told Fox News that in addition to the Human Rights Council, they have submitted urgent appeals to the UN’s other human rights bodies, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges.
“We call on Qatar to release Sheikh Talal and allow him to reunite with his family in Germany,” he continued. “Until his release, he must have immediate access to means of communication with his family, independent medical staff, and a lawyer of his own choosing. His legal team must be given access to legal and medical records that the Qatari authorities may have produced during his arbitrary detention.”
The UN hearing hits Qatar’s monarchy at a time when it is reeling from accusations that it has been funding the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hezbollah.
In 2017, other Sunni Arab countries in the region imposed an embargo on Qatar for its alleged role in financing international radical Islamic terrorism.
The case of Sheikh Talal is yet another human rights black eye for the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who is desperately trying to present his non-democratic country as a modern state free from the support of terrorism, massive worker exploitation, and widespread human rights abuse, as it prepares to host soccer’s 2022 World Cup.
“Our case is important not only because of its political profile but also because Qatar’s numerous and ongoing violations of our family’s basic human rights exemplify deep-seated systemic problems with the Qatari government and justice system,” said Arian, who is Moroccan-born and is a German citizen, along with her children.
The last UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges to inspect Qatar’s judiciary took place in 2014. The Rapporteur noted certain legal deficiencies, including improper influence on the judiciary.
“[W]hile any direct interference in the independence of judges is extremely difficult to document, reports of pressures of the executive on the work of the judiciary, particularly in cases involving powerful persons, are a matter of concern to the Special Rapporteur,” the then-Special Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul wrote. ”For instance, in 2009, 33 Qatari judges reportedly tendered their resignation to protest over what they had described as continued interference in their work.”
After the Special Rapporteur’s rebuke of Qatar’s judiciary, Doha apparently has not invited a Special Rapporteur back to reexamine its legal system.
The 2020 Freedom in the World report, issued by Freedom House, found "Qatar’s hereditary emir holds all executive and legislative authority, and ultimately controls the judiciary as well.” Freedom House, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. noted “Despite constitutional guarantees, the judiciary is not independent in practice.”
After Sheikh Talal was arrested, the Qatari authorities dispatched Arian, who was pregnant and had three small children at the time, to an “uninhabitable house in the desert without air conditioning, exposed to pests and sewage,” she said.
“My children and I fell seriously ill there, but we were denied basic medical care,” she added.
Messages that are believed to be from the Qatari royal family–and reviewed by Fox News--threatened Arian if she continues to wage a public campaign for her husband’s freedom.
Arian and her children are now under the protection of security authorities in Germany, her attorney said.
Qatar’s foreign ministry in Doha and its embassies in Berlin, Brussels, and Washington did not immediately return Fox News' request for comment.
The German Foreign Ministry told Fox News it is aware of the case but did not offer any additional comment.
The U.S. Department of State did not immediately respond to Fox News.