Qatar must urgently investigate allegations that a Filipino man who was held in solitary confinement for over four years was repeatedly tortured, said Amnesty International ahead of an appeal hearing in his case on 9 March.
Ronaldo Lopez Ulep, 48, a former civilian employee of Qatar’s Air Force was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of spying in 2014 for allegedly passing on information about his employer.
Two other Filipino men involved in the case were also found guilty, apparently of espionage. One has been sentenced to death. According to court documents, all three told the court that their “confessions” were extracted through torture and other ill-treatment.
Given the fact that Ronaldo Lopez Ulep was held in solitary confinement for four years prior to his trial, his allegation that he was repeatedly tortured in order to force him to ‘confess’, and the use of this ‘confession’ in his trial, his conviction is clearly unsafeSaid Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme
“We are concerned that unless the allegations of torture of Ronaldo Lopez Ulep and the two other men are independently and impartially investigated, the current appeal will also be fundamentally unfair.”
In the initial trial the lower court had sentenced Ronaldo Lopez Ulep and another Filipino national to life in prison; and a third Filipino man was sentenced to death.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Under international standards, states that have not abolished the death penalty must remove from their law any death penalty provisions which are in breach of international human rights law, such as its mandatory imposition for crimes which do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes”, which international bodies have defined as limited to crimes that involve intentional killing. In any event, Qatar must ensure that trials for crimes carrying the death penalty comply with the most rigorous internationally recognized standards for fair trial.
Torture in pre-trial detention
Ronaldo Lopez Ulep was arrested in Doha in April 2010. According to information received by Amnesty International, he endured repeated bouts of physical and psychological torture and other ill-treatment for the first eight months of his detention in the state security prison. During two interrogation sessions he was burned with cigarettes on his back and legs, stripped naked and forced to crawl around on the floor until his knees bled, and was frequently punched and slapped. He was then forced to sign a document in Arabic, which he could not read, that was later presented in court as a “confession”.
Following his arrest, he spent four years in solitary confinement and was only allowed out of his cell two or three times a week for 15 minutes at a time. He was not permitted to go outdoors. After three years, he was given permission to leave the cell once a day after a doctor’s recommendation due to high blood pressure.
During his time in detention he was also held for prolonged periods with his hands bound behind his back and deprived of sleep by guards who taunted him with claims that his family were dead.
Amnesty International has written to the Qatari authorities to raise the case twice – once in September 2014 and once in January 2015 – but has received no response. It has also raised the case with the Philippines Embassy in Qatar.
“Despite the Qatari government’s eagerness to project a global image of a wealthy glamorous nation committed to respecting human rights, this case has brought to light a more sinister side to the Gulf state that the international community can no longer continue to ignore,” said Said Boumedouha.
“If the Qatari authorities want to prove they are serious about having a transparent judicial system and tackling human rights violations, then instead of turning a blind eye to this case they must immediately announce a full investigation into torture allegations and review the way the lower court trial was conducted. Suspected perpetrators of torture or other serious human rights violations must be brought to justice in fair trials, and victims should be afforded full reparation.”
The court must also consider releasing the three men pending their appeal and provide medical treatment for any injuries sustained while in custody. They must be granted regular access to their families, lawyers of their choosing and consular assistance.
The appeal trial of the three men began on 26 May 2014. To date there have been four sessions, some of which have been postponed and others lasting as little as 15 minutes. According to sources close to the case the hearing on 9 March is likely to be the final session before a verdict is reached.