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Tue 18 Mar 2003 04:00 AM

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Qatar's Emir pardons Jordanian journalist

Firas Al Majali, the Jordanian journalist sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of Qatar, has received a pardon from the country’s Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, sources told Arabian Business.

Firas Al Majali, the Jordanian journalist sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of Qatar, has received a pardon from the country’s Emir, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, sources told Arabian Business.The source who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Majali would be released on March 18, returning to Jordan with King Abdullah on his personal plane along with the Jordanian delegation that was accompanying the King on a two day visit to Qatar. On February 24 Qatar’s appeals court had upheld the death sentence handed down in the case of Majali, who was convicted of espionage. Al Majali, who is part of a prominent family in Jordan, whose uncles were Prime Ministers of Jordan, was arrested on charges of spying for Jordanian intelligence in January 2002 and sentenced to death in October 2002. Initially, Al Majali, who was a news editor for Qatari state television, admitted to sending emails to Jordan’s Jordanian intelligence officials. “He confessed at the beginning and when the trial commenced he recanted,” Essa bin Hamad Al Manai, Majali’s lawyer told Arabian Business in early March. 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-Manai said that the information in the alleged e-mails, which he said could not be traced to his client, was public. The initial death sentence triggered wide spread protests in Jordan led by family members rallying for his release. Jordan had been engaged since October 2002 in diplomatic efforts, to resolve the case in the hope that Al Majali would receive a pardon. An unexpected meeting between King Abdullah II of Jordan and Qatari Emir, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, in Paris in January 2003 and more recently in March in Qatar, prior to the probable war in Iraq, are thought to have paved the way for the pardon. “We are very happy. From a political point of view the decision was made to release him for the sake of the excellent relations between the two countries and bringing everything back to its normal course,” a prominent Jordanian close to the family told Arabian Business. “We went through a very difficult period with the Qataris for a long period of time, and I am sure that had a bearing on the subject and hopefully now in these difficult times we put things back onto a normal footing. It was all due to the efforts by His Majesty King Abdullah in coordination with His Highness the Emir and he [Majali] will be returning to Jordan with the King today,” added the source. Al Majali’s father, Nasooh Majali was Jordan’s Information Minister and Ambassador to Syria. Rula Abu Rous, the defendant’s wife, who could not be reached, works for the controversial Qatari satellite channel Al Jazeera. 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. In August, the Jordanian government closed the Jordanian offices of the Qatari-based Al Jazeera channel and revoked the accreditation of the channel’s staff in the kingdom, in response to the show, Al Itijah Al Muakis, or ‘Opposite Directions’.

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