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Qatar…From Afar: Sleepless in Kathmandu

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Release Dorje Gurung-feat image

 

 

Nights in Kathmandu turned out to be as sleepless as they had been in Al Rayyan jail.

What was similar about that which kept me awake in both places was the improbability of it all. Even while inside Al Rayyan, years of incarceration based on the words of a 12-year old, to me, appeared improbable. In Kathmandu a four-day global campaign securing my release, someone jailed in the GULF for allegedly insulting ISLAM, appeared improbable!

And while the nights in jail, especially the first one, was sleepless also due to anxiety and fear for what might happen to me, the nights since being released were sleepless due to an obsession with the need to know what had happened during the four-day Free Dorje Gurung campaign.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which made me — amongst other things — considerably more anxious, alert and vigilant, also kept the night-owl in me up, of course! Those nights, it was as if like I were high on caffeine!

I spent those hours mostly scouring Facebook and the internet — reading about the campaign; reading articles and blogs etc.; reading Facebook posts, comments and messages and responding to them; reading emails and responding to them; responding to friend requests on Facebook; going through comments in my blogs waiting for moderation and responding to them etc. I just needed to know/figure out what had happened and when.

I had known about the first Doha News article. The morning of May 9, the day I was arraigned, two friends had come to provide moral support. The one who had spoken to the journalist had brought along a hard copy. While I waited for my appearance before the judge, both friends and I had long conversations about what had transpired between the 12-year old boys and me. Unbeknownst to me, Doha News had followed that up with another one the following day based on a conversation the journalist, Shabina Khatri, had had with the other friend.

Shabina had come to the courts, it appeared, to actually talk to me but had arrived a little too late. I was literally stepping into the elevator when she appeared at the end of the corridor and called out after me.

The two Doha News articles were followed by another one in The Washington Post.

As friends passed those three articles around on social media, more and more friends had come to know of my predicament. Additional media in Nepal and elsewhere, as well as bloggers, covered my story. (See below for a more complete list.)

Friends, former colleagues, students from schools I had taught at around the world had then started taking steps, independently.

In the mean time, I had planned to inform my friends about the incarceration through Facebook. I had been confident that if my friends around the world were to find out, they would do something about it.

As a matter of fact, after providing my Facebook login details to a friend on Sunday, May 5, I had started working on a sequence of steps for him to follow to unfriend anyone and everyone even remotely connected to my parents before posting about my predicament. I didn’t want my parents to know why I hadn’t shown up in Kathmandu on May 3 like I had told them I would because I feared the impact of that on them.

All the Gurungs had to go first. Then all those with Tangbetani or Tang for surnames, followed by those with the surname Lama, just to be sure, had to be cut! My plans had been to pass this and other instructions on to him the following Sunday, May 12, during visiting hours. Little did I know firstly, how unnecessary that would have been and secondly, the scale the campaign would take!

(It turned out, the administrator who had been responsible for facilitating my departure from Doha, had already called my parents on Friday, May 3, my original departure date itself, and had told them that I had been “held up.”)

As I scoured Facebook and the Internet, I was blown away by what I discovered! What everyone had done was way WAAAY beyond what I had imagined people doing!

A change.org petition addressed to the Government of Qatar, a Free Dorje Gurung Tumbr site, a twitter account, two Free Dorje Gurung Facebook pages — Free Dorje Gurung and Free Dorje Gurung Grinnell College Supporters — appeared to have been set up pretty soon after the two articles in Doha News. By the time I got out, the change.org petition had gotten over 14K signatures from people in 168 countries or territories. A lot of users engaged with posts on the Free Dorje Gurung Facebook page constantly and reached a large and wide audience — one post reached over 51K users!

Friends in Kathmandu had organized themselves to help my parents cope with the situation and to work with officials at the foreign ministry to pressure the Nepalese embassy in Doha to move on my behalf. Letter writing campaigns to Qatari embassies and UWC International Committees around the globe appeared to have been in full swing, the English version of the letter being translated into different languages – such as French, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish etc. Qatari embassies around the world had also been hounded by phone calls in addition to being bombarded with emails.

There had been letter-writing campaigns to Qatar Academy administrators, the QA Board of Directors and even the Emir’s secretary. There had been letter-writing campaigns to human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW). As a matter of fact, according to the HRW personnel, who I had a conversation with not long after I arrived back in Kathmandu, the volume and frequency of emails to HRW had been so high that their system almost crashed!

At some point, a number of friends appeared to have come together — calling themselves the Working Group — to coordinate, manage and steer the campaign in a particular direction and give it a particular slant. Posts and comments on the Free Dorje Gurung Facebook page, for instance, were being carefully censored in keeping with that. Efforts to set up a defence fund and to recruit Dr. Najeeb Al Nuaimi, the high profile Qatari lawyer had been underway already!

Many of the incredible amount of hours and hours of work that went into the campaign are detailed in the Action page on Tumblr. As I kept finding more and more, I realised that some of it I will never find out. Regardless, not too long after arriving in Kathmandu, I reached a point when I felt I had learned enough, when I felt many of the important questions about the campaign had been answered.

I was, however, very curious about the Working Group — who all were in it, the roles each of them played, and when and how each of them had found out about my plight. I wanted to learn about that directly from them of course, but all that could wait. Opportunities for that, I was certain, would present themselves in time.

Nights then turned into nights and stopped being days in the dark!

 

 * * * * * * * *

 

Links, References etc.

First Few Doha News & The Washington Post Articles

Qatar Academy teachers fret as former colleague jailed over alleged insults to Islam. The first Doha News article about my plight, published on May 8.
Teacher appears in Doha court, faces felony charge of insulting Islam. The second Doha News article published on May 9.
Qatar jails a Nepali teacher on charges of insulting Islam. The Washington Post article published on May 9 as well.
International community rallys around Nepalese teacher charged with insulting Islam. The third Doha News article published on May 10.

Petitions and Campaign Pages

Government Of Qatar: Release Dorje Gurung. The Change.org petition.
Free Dorje Gurung Tumblr page.  Store house for most of the information, such as form letters, action plans etc.
Free Dorje Gurung Twitter account. Hashtag used was #FreeDorje.
The White House Petition.
Free Dorje Gurung Facebook Page.
Free Dorje Gurung Grinnell College Supporters Facebook page.
Details of actions being taken, such as letter-writing, making phone calls etc. on Tumblr.

Some Articles in Nepalese Media

Nepalese faces jail in Doha for insulting islam. Published on Arthik News on May 9.
Campaign for Nepali teacher’s release from Doha jail starts. Nepalnews article published on May 10.
Petitioning Govt of Qatar to release Dorje Gurung. Published on Sajha.com on May 10.
Eight thousand sign petition demanding Dorje Gurung’s release. Nepal News article published on May 11.
Free Dorje Gurung. Nepali Site article. No date indicated.

Articles in other Media and Blogs

Qatar teacher jailed for insulting Muslims. Arabian Business article published on May 9.
Qatar Academy Teacher Jailed Over Alleged Insults to Islam. International school Review blog published on May 9.
Nepali Teacher Jailed in Qatar For “Insulting Islam”. Lexlimbu’s blog post published on May 9.
Free Dorje Gurung, Boycut Qatar. Manic Expressive, a stay-home dad’s blog post published on May 9.
A Nepalese teacher working here in Qatar was jailed for allegedly “insulting Islam. A Reddit campaign started on May 10.
Qatar Teacher Jailed for Allegedly Insulting Islam. Education Week Teacher article published on May 10.
Stand Up To Muslim Bullies? That’s Jail Time. Moral Compass article published on May 10.
Online Campaign Launched for Jailed Nepali Teacher. Yahoo News article published on May 10.
Islam should be scrutinized critically. On Free Thought Blog, published May 11.
False arrest of Dorje Gurung. A blog post by a fellow educator published on May 11.
Nepali teacher jailed in Qatar on charges of insulting Islam. Mikel Dunham on his blog posted on May 11.
freedom (?). Adrienne Michetti on Quotidian, her blog, on May 11.

Chat Rooms/Forum boards

Jailed Teacher in Qatar! International School Review forum started by a Mike on May 9.
UK trained, Nepalese teacher jailed in Qatar. The Times Educational Supplement forum, posted on May 9.

Articles/Blogs Published Soon After My Release

Nepalese teacher accused of insulting Islam released from Qatar jail. Doha News article published on May 12.
Teacher jailed on charges of insulting Islam is freed by Qatar. The Washington Post article published on May 13.
someone else’s story. Adrienne Michetti on Quotidian, her blog, on May 13.
Teacher accused of insulting Islam leaves Qatar, arrives in Nepal. Doha News article published on May 13.
Qatar teacher jailed for Muslim insults is releasedArabian Business article published on May 13.
Grinnell College alum accused of insulting Islam is freed by Qatar after international outcry. Des Moines Register article published on May 13.
Dorje Gurung is Free! Manic Expressive, a stay-home dad’s blog post published on May 13.
Teacher in insult case allowed to go home. Article in The Peninsula, Qatar’s Daily Newspaper, published on May 14.
Did Qatar’s Brand Management Concerns Spell Release for Dorje Gurung? No date indicated.

Timeline of the campaign. A neat graph showing what happened when between May 9 and 13. (This was added on April 3, 2016.)

 

 

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