An Australian public health professor alleges he told Australian consulate staff he was being tortured and held without charge they visited him in a Qatari prison, but says they did nothing to help.
Biostatistician Prof Lukman Thalib, 58, was arrested at his Doha home and detained for five months without charge in Qatar, where he had been working as acting head of Qatar University’s public health department.
Australian professor and his son freed after being allegedly tortured in Qatar
In his first comments since being released, Prof Thalib alleged he had been subjected to “hauntingly calculated” torture while in Qatar.
His family has previously said he was placed in stress positions for prolonged periods and suffered sleep deprivation, isolation and sensory bombardment, including the use of harsh lights 24 hours a day.
Prof Thalib lost 25kg and says he suffered permanent “visual, neurological and organ damage”.
He recalls being visited by Australian consulate staff once during his five-and-a-half month detention.
“I explained the torture I had endured and all of my health concerns,” he told the Guardian. “I thought perhaps things would change after that visit and my government would help stop the torture and get me released, but I was wrong and the torture and mistreatment continued for me for weeks after that.”
Prof Thalib was never given a formal reason for his detention.
One of his relatives has since been arrested by Australian police for his alleged involvement in a “sophisticated terrorist network”. The relative is charged with assisting an extremist to travel to Syria to fight against government forces.
Following his detention, Prof Thalib and one of his sons, Ismail Talib, 24, were named by the Sri Lankan government in association with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, which killed 269 people. It was alleged they had helped the attack’s mastermind, Zaharan Hashim, connect with four terrorists in the Maldives. Ismail Talib was also detained in Qatar.
Prof Thalib says he is planning to sue over the Easter Sunday claims and says they are “completely slanderous and malicious in nature, and constitute a direct, cowardly attack on our reputation which has shocked me and my family”.
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Prof Thalib said the episode began at his home on 27 July, while he was on a Zoom meeting with colleagues, working on a research paper for gestational diabetics treatment.
“I was upstairs and heard my wife screaming,” he said. “I came down and there were four to five people in plain clothes inside my house. It was as though they took over my house.
“I had no idea what was happening. I asked them who they are and requested to see their identity, to which I was not provided any answers.”
He said he planned to launch legal proceedings over his treatment.
“I was not allowed to sleep for days on end and was tortured systematically in a hauntingly calculated way,” he said. “I began to lose trust in everything and everyone. At times, I thought I lost my mind. I was prepared to do anything to get out.”
The Qatar government was approached for a response.
The department of foreign affairs and trade was also approached for comment but did not respond.