Australian professor and son detained in Qatar for five months without charge

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Arrest of public health expert Lukman Thalib and son Ismail Talib came three months before US accused Australian-based son Ahmed Luqman Talib of links to al-Qaida

Professor Lukman Thalib (righr) receives a teaching award at Qatar University in 2018. Prof Thalib’s family say he was arrested in Qatar in July on unknown charges and has been held in detention ever since.
Professor Lukman Thalib (right) receives a teaching award at Qatar University in 2018. Prof Thalib’s family say he was arrested in Qatar in July on unknown charges and has been held in detention ever since. Photograph: Talib Family
Professor Lukman Thalib (right) receives a teaching award at Qatar University in 2018. Prof Thalib’s family say he was arrested in Qatar in July on unknown charges and has been held in detention ever since. Photograph: Talib Family

Last modified on Mon 14 Dec 2020 14.38 EST

An Australian public health professor and his son have been detained in Qatar for almost five months without charge, and are receiving consular assistance from the Australian embassy.

Australian citizens Prof Lukman Thalib, 58, and his son Ismail Talib, 24, were arrested at their home in Doha by local authorities on 27 July, and are being kept at an undisclosed location.

The arrests came roughly three months before the United States named another of Prof Thalib’s sons, who lives in Australia, as an alleged “financial facilitator” of al-Qaida.

Prof Thalib is a public health expert and biostatistician, who has been in Qatar since 2015.

He is still listed as acting head of Qatar University’s public health department and has recently assisted the country with its Covid-19 response.

The Australian government has provided consular assistance to the pair, and is understood to have visited them in recent months. The government has told their family it is still attempting to clarify the nature of the investigation and the charges being considered against the pair.

Ismail Talib, pictured in Australia, was arrested with his father in July.
Ismail Talib, pictured in Australia, was arrested with his father in July. Photograph: Talib Family

In mid-October one of Prof Thalib’s other sons, Ahmed Luqman Talib, was named by the US State Department as an alleged “facilitator” who provided financial and logistic support to al-Qaida and used his gem trading business to move money across the globe.

“Talib has had financial dealings in a number of countries, and his business dealing in gemstones has provided him the ability to move funds internationally for the benefit of AQ,” the State Department said.

Victorian police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian federal police raided Ahmed Talib’s home a short time later.

He has not been charged and may be preparing to challenge the US’s designation.

The family was not made aware of what had happened to Prof Thalib and his son for 40 days after their arrest.

Relatives approached the Australian government in October for assistance.

Prof Thalib has been allowed to make calls to his family. Ismail Talib has not been heard from in five months.

Prof Thalib’s daughter, Maryam Luqman Talib, told the Guardian that the family “has gone through what can almost be described as hell” over the past five months.

“I won’t lie, I won’t lie it has been painful and devastating,” she said. “My mum is older, both my parents are elderly … of course it’s been a very, very tough time. It’s just been quite devastating for us just being kept in the dark on so many things.”

Maryan Talib said her father, in remission from leukaemia, had lost considerable weight and had endured sleep deprivation through the playing of sustained loud noises throughout the night.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it was providing consular assistance to two Australians in Qatar, but would not comment further.

The family is being assisted by Cage, a London-based organisation, which believes the arrests in Qatar and interrogation of other family members in Sri Lanka are a form of guilt by association and collective punishment.

“The family strongly believe the arrests in Qatar, the interrogations in Sri Lanka and the raid in Australia are all connected and are a form of collective punishment on the family,” it said in a statement.

Naila Ahmad, Cage’s head of casework, said the group was “deeply concerned” for the pair’s welfare.

“Professor Lukman and his son Ismail have had their life overturned in a matter of weeks,” Ahmad said.

The family lived in Brisbane before moving to Qatar, and Prof Thalib had a research association with Griffith University.

In 2018, Prof Thalib was part of a research team awarded the Best Nursing Free Paper at the 43rd Australian and New Zealand Annual Scientific Meeting on Intensive Care, according to Griffith University’s annual report.

Ahmed Luqman Talib, the son named by the US State Department, was shot by Israeli soldiers during the 2010 attack on an activist flotilla attempting to break the Israeli siege of Gaza.

Maryam Talib, his sister, was also on the flotilla.