Returning to Kathmandu following 12 days in a jail in Doha, Qatar, in addition to discovering answers to questions — innumerable questions — I had, I made some interesting unexpected discoveries as well.
I had questions about the Free Dorje Gurung campaign, about how information my incarceration had become public knowledge on Facebook, about the Qatar Academy (QA) administrators and their (lack of) involvement in the case etc.
(As a matter of fact, I devote a whole sub-series — called Uncomfortable Questions — in the Qatar Academy series to many of those questions. I have published four so far: Uncomfortable Questions I, Uncomfortable Questions II, Uncomfortable Questions III and Uncomfortable Questions IV.)
To some of those questions, I have discovered the answers, while to others I still haven’t. (I totally don’t expect to find answers to many of them, which I am totally fine with too!)
One of the first unexpected and surprising discovery I made was having become a minor celebrity of sorts, which made me feel a little uncomfortable, more than anything. (If you didn’t or don’t know, I am a very private person and exposure and attention that I am NOT directly responsible for has always made me uncomfortable, and still does.)
Yet another unexpected and surprising discovery I made was how many friends, relatives, acquaintances, and even strangers, who had come to “know” (about) me from the Free Dorje Gurung campaign, had very strong opinions about what I should do with my life and my “fame.” More than half a dozen of them even had specific ideas — including the job I should do and/or how we could work together etc.
I was aware that I most likely suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but I hadn’t expected to discover that one of the symptoms would be hypersensitivity to suffering of people, to give a third example.
Two other unexpected and surprising discoveries I made were 1. I should forget about even transiting through the Gulf and, 2. the alleged charges of insulting Islam have not been dropped.
Within the first week of being back, I had some interviews with local journalists. One of them was a veteran of Qatar. He was stationed in Doha for a few years managing the local edition of Kantipur, a Nepali national daily, and had even written a book about his experiences in the country. He was very knowledgeable about the region.
He was the one who advised me against even transiting through the Gulf!
He shared the story of a Nepalese guy jailed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), if I remember correctly, on charges related to Islam. He had also been released and allowed to return home. Five years later, on his way to Canada, via Muscat, Oman, the authorities at Muscat airport picked him up and deported him to KSA…to face charges…charges that for some reason had not been cleared when he had been released!
In time, I learned of similar other stories (such as that of a South African medical doctor), which strengthened my resolve to not travel to the Gulf.
Long before I had even been released, long before I had even been jailed, having had a horrible experience as a teacher at QA, discriminated against and victimized by Arabs (Qatari and others) more systematically, more deliberately and more often than by any other people, anywhere else in the world at any time in my life, I had decided not to visit the Gulf anyway! As a matter of fact, forget about traveling to the Gulf, even while in Qatar, I hadn’t visited a single neighboring country…even once!
Following the journalist’s advice, forget about traveling to the Gulf, I struck out of my travel itinerary — for the foreseeable future anyway — a number of other countries because of their association with Islam. I struck off the Middle East and other Muslim States that enforce, however nominally, Sharia Law, namely, those in Northern Africa, such as Egypt, Sudan, Libya etc. I even struck off countries with significant Muslim population, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and even Azerbaijan, where I spent three years from 2007 to 2010. I reasoned that, considering my alleged transgression (insulting Islam), those countries might willingly take action to “bring me to justice,” just as Oman had done with the Nepalese man charged in KSA.
Then in June, I received confirmation that the charges indeed had NOT been dropped (which I mentioned for the first time in the blog post Qatar…From Afar: 121212, published in August, 2013).
Over time, following my release on May 12 — in spite of what the QA Principal had told me about the Vice-Principal getting the parent to drop the charges — I had become more and more suspicious of the explanation for my release for a few reasons.
To begin with, on May 13, the day I flew home, I received a text message from a colleague saying, “I wonder why we were told it was out of the parents hands” in response to my text message saying, “The reason for my release? Parents withdrew the charges.”
There is also the question of when the parent would have actually withdrawn or dropped the charges.
He couldn’t have done it before May 8 (Wednesday) when the first Doha News article came out, because then QA and Qatar Foundation would have been more than eager to share that with the journalist over issuing the statement that they actually did. He couldn’t have done it before the publication of the second Doha News article, which came out the afternoon of May 9 (Thursday). Otherwise, that would have most likely appeared in the article and would have obviated the need for me to appear in court that day! (Far from obviating that need, I was given another court date, one for two weeks later.)
He couldn’t have done it on May 10 (Friday) or 11 (Saturday) because that’s the weekend.
Which leaves late afternoon of May 9 (Thursday) and before mid-afternoon May 12 (Sunday) when he could have potentially done it. Looking back, I have decided that what transpired at Al Rayyan Police Station the afternoon of May 12 and the following morning tells me that he wouldn’t have done it at either of those times.
In other words, he never did it!
So, I have maintained that someone high up in the Qatari authorities ordered my release, seeing how fast the campaign was growing and realizing that they had nothing to gain but a lot to lose — in the form of negative publicity for the country — by continuing to keep me locked up.
Of course, I had no direct way of confirming if the charges had indeed been dropped or if, instead, my educated guesses above were true. But, I had an idea.
Not long before my incarceration, a colleague and I had made rounds of a police station for our police clearance. The colleague had a copy of my passport etc. and the people at the station — different from where I was held — having seen us together, I figured would also recognize him as being my friend.
So, I asked a favor of him: to get the clearance paper on my behalf. I reasoned that, if indeed the charges had been dropped and given that, that had been the only run-in I had had with the legal authorities, they should issue the document!
Except, my colleague was told they couldn’t (see below). That, I “Must go back to court to argue case,” as far as I am concerned, really translates into “Your case is still pending.” That is, the charges have NOT been dropped!
Of course, I have absolutely no intention of going back to Qatar to clear my name! What’s more, that message made my resolve to NOT allow the Qatari authorities to avail me the “opportunity” “to argue my case” even stronger still, were they still inclined to do so! 😀
Furthermore, after receiving the Viber text message, I did a quick search for countries that have extradition agreements with Qatar and in the list, among others, I discovered a European country: France!
The last time I applied for a travel visa to the country, it was denied (on some technicality), though, just the year before that I had been given one. Since the discovery of that piece of information about France, I have decided not to give the French the pleasure of even denying me a visa again, let alone travel there! 😀
For a couple of reasons, my decision to not travel to the Middle East before and after the ordeal in Qatar is really a shame though.
The first is that I have had, for a long time, in my bucket list, two places in the region: the ancient city of Petra in Jordan and the Pyramids in Egypt!
The second reason is that, the Gulf is now THE travel hub, the gateway, to the West, whether Europe or North-America! Since returning to Nepal, I have traveled to the US a few times and every time I have done that, I have had to avoid it completely, limiting my options.
The alternative has been Delhi mostly, which is a pain for a few reasons.
Firstly, the connections are just horrendous — it always involves anywhere from ten to twenty-hour lay over!
Secondly, the airport itself lacks facilities and amenities that you normally find at airports running a similar number of flights and serving a similar volume of passengers, unless you are willing to fork out some serious dollars for some of those very same comforts!
Thirdly, the low quality of customer service to Nepalese travelers is another unattractive feature of the airport. Indian airport and airline officials can be really rude, dismissive and abrupt to Nepalese passport holders. (I am sure there are a number of reasons for that but that is besides the point here.)
I have found a way around it though: I just always speak English! Even when they speak to me in Hindi or ask if I speak — or why I don’t speak — Hindi, after they confirm my nationality (from my passport), I keep insisting on English. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, whether because of my North-American accent and/or because they are speaking English, they are considerably more polite!
It’s for those — and other — reasons that Delhi airport features in my list of the best and the worst as the worst airport!
But I have come to accept the hassles of long Delhi-airport transit and of dealing with their personnel as just a small inconvenience over the potential for extradition to Qatar to face, again, alleged charges of insulting Islam! 😀 😀
That I could be extradited to Qatar were I to travel to — or even via — a Muslim country or France, I am happy to NOT discover!
What do you think?