Qatar’s release of Saudi prisoners likely to herald new era in bilateral relations

May 26, 2010
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Hours after they were released from a Qatari prison where they had been confined for more than 14 years, the former Saudi prisoners sat with King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud in his palace in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

The ex-detainees from the Ghufran clan of Al Murrah tribe wanted to express their deep gratitude to King Abdullah for securing their release, Saudi News Agency said.

“They were received by King Abdullah on the same day when they were allowed to go home following a request for their release from the king to his brother the emir of Qatar,” the agency said.

In their address to King Abdullah, the ex-detainees paid rich tribute to his “generous and benevolent act that put back smiles on the faces of dozens of Saudi families after 14 years of sadness over the imprisonment of their relatives for more than 14 years.”

Earlier, Saudi Arabia’s king thanked Qatar’s emir for responding positively to his request to release Saudi citizens who had been held by Doha since 1996 for their alleged role in a failed coup.

“King Abdullah highly values the gesture of Qatar’s Emir. The generous pardon reflects the deep-rooted and good neighbourhood relations between the two countries and people,” Saudi News Agency reported King Abdullah as saying a short time after Doha said that Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani responded to the wish of the Saudi king and released prisoners held in connection with the plot.

Saudi News Agency said that King Abdullah’s request to release the Saudi prisoners was part of his “continuous follow-up of the conditions of Saudi citizens both in Saudi Arabia and abroad.”

Qatar News Agency on late Tuesday afternoon said that the Emir had pardoned a number of people who were held in connection with the failed coup to undermine security and stability in Qatar.

The pardoned left the country with Prince Mutib Bin Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Saudi Deputy Commander of the National Guard for Executive Affairs, the Qatari news agency said, quoting a statement from the foreign ministry

No reason was given by the officials or media of both countries for the timing of King Abdullah’s request or Shaikh Hamad’s response to the release of the detainees from the Al Murrah tribe.

They had been held since Doha on February 26, 1996 said that it had foiled a coup attempt by “foreign-backed saboteurs.” The coup was staged eight months after Shaikh Hamad became the country’s emir.

Dozens of people who were suspected of a role in the coup attempt were arrested and put on trial on charges of conspiring and plotting to undermine the country’s stability and security. The plotters were believed to include members of Al Murrah tribe who had been strong supporters of the Emir’s father Shaikh Khalifa deposed in June 1995.

The public prosecutor on November 24, 1977 said that the 119 defendants would be tried by the court on November 26.

The trial lasted until February 2000 when the criminal court announced that 19 defendants would be sentenced to death. The court sentenced 33 defendants to life in prison and acquitted the rest. However, none of those condemned to death has been executed.

However, for years after the foiling of the coup, Shaikh Hamad remained suspicious of the alleged role of the powerful Al Murrah tribe, and in 2005 deported around 5,000 of its members on the grounds that they broke Qatari law by holding the dual Qatari-Saudi Arabian citizenship. Stripped of their Qatari nationality, the tribe members left Qatar for Saudi Arabia.

Relations between Doha and Riyadh were at times marred by border disputes and divergent foreign policy approaches towards issues in the region. Observers hope that the Qatari decision to release the Saudi prisoners would herald a new chapter in their ties.

In Manama, several Bahrainis, upon hearing news of the release, said that they too looked forward to Qatar making the decision to allow the dozens of Bahrain fishermen held in Doha for straying into Qatari waters to go home.

 

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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