Earlier this month, I wrote an update for Doha News about ‘Mary’, the Filipina expat jailed in Qatar for giving birth out of wedlock and her son, William. They both ended up spending a total of three years in jail together in Doha, and Mary gave me a very honest and insightful interview about life behind bars in Qatar.
The conversation we had about her arrest in her hospital room four days after her son’s birth will stay with me forever, I think.
Click here to read the story on Doha News, and here if you’d like to contribute to a family fund raising money for Mary to hire a lawyer.
Last month, I spent several weeks researching and writing this story for Doha News about the financial advice industry in Qatar, and the bad experiences some investors have had with advisers in the region, both regulated and unregulated. It sparked a lot of interest, with many people sharing their experiences – both good and bad – in the comments section below.
Earlier this month, a Qatar Airways 777 hit the Approach Lighting System at Miami’s airport on take off, causing “substantial damage” to the aircraft. Despite this, the crew continued the flight as normal and the aircraft landed safely in Doha. Significant damage to the aircraft’s belly was discovered by ground crew afterwards, and the accident was reported to the USA’s FAA, which is investigating.
Recently, I wrote a follow-up to a very popular Doha News story from last year, in which I focused on women who’d been jailed in Qatar for giving birth outside of wedlock.
In the latest story, I write about Mary (not her real name), who’d originally been sentenced to a year in prison with her baby for sex outside marriage, and was still in jail, more than 15 months later, due to debts, most of which she had accumulated after borrowing money from a loan shark.
The story went viral and got shared widely on Twitter and Facebook. It’s co-authored with my Doha News colleague Peter Kovessy, who provided the sections on the legal framework in Qatar.
You can click here to read it, and the comments underneath – 122 to date – are well worth reading, too.
Recently, I met a group of very determined, very feisty mothers who are all battling to get the best therapy possible in Qatar for their children, who are all on the autistic spectrum.
I spoke to a Qatari mother who decided to found the Child Development Center, a new support centre for autistic children. It’s very expensive, but the service they provide is – according to the mothers I spoke to – life-changing.
On April 30th 2014, Doha’s new airport, Hamad International, finally opened to passengers – five years late. I went along to the opening ceremony, asked questions at the press conference, and spoke to some of its first passengers.
As for passenger experience – I noted that very few of the airport’s restaurants and shops were open. In fact, there were only three cafes, and two duty free shops. Whether the rest will be open in time for the full transfer of all air traffic on May 27th remains to be seen.
The resulting story on Doha News was one of our most-read stories ever, with 13.5k shares from our website alone.
Click here to read it, or see the full text below.
At close to noon today, Fly Dubai flight FZ015 from Dubai touched down at the terminal 45 minutes behind schedule, signaling the beginning of passenger operations at the airport.
About half an hour earlier, a ceremonial Qatar Airways flight carrying VIPs also flew into the new airport, after a very short flight from neighboring Doha International Airport.
The aircraft was greeted by two water cannons, assembled dignitaries and members of the press.
Although the first aircraft to land at HIA today, this flight was not the first aircraft to fly into the airport – HIA has seen numerous test landings, including the high profile visit of the Airbus A350 in February.
Officials from the $15.5 billion HIA and operating airline Qatar Airwaysheld a press conference this morning to mark the opening.
When asked by Doha News what had been going on at the airport since last year’s thwarted soft launch on April 1st, the national carrier’s CEO Akbar Al Baker said that “certain issues about international standards which had been raised by authorities over the last year had to be addressed,” and that these had taken longer to resolve than expected.
“But, we should forget about what happened in the past, and now look to the future,” he added.
Although he did not comment specifically on reasons for the repeated delaying of the airport’s opening, he did say that Civil Defense had “worked hard” to “raise security standards at the airport.”
HIA officials also gave some more details about plans for the DIA once all commercial passenger traffic moves across to the new airport next month.
Journalists were told that the committee “has some ideas” to convert some of the area – a key piece of land near the center of the city – into “grassy areas and roads.”
Gulf Helicopters and the Qatar Aeronautical College would also use the runway and facilities, the officials said. No specific details about the fates of the existing departure and arrival terminals were revealed.
Reaction to the official opening has been enthusiastic, as residents look forward to an easier, smoother travel experience.
We’re at #HIA for its official opening this am. Here’s the departures board – Qatar Airways ceremonial flight first
Although HIA is now open to passengers, it’s clear that there’s still some way to go before the airport’s 80 shops and 30 restaurants and cafes are ready to receive customers.
At present, there are only two operational cafes – one in the check-in area, and one next to the departure gates. Additionally, premium passengers (and some card holders) have use of the new Oryx lounge, which economy passengers can also enter for QR 140.
The only retail outlets currently open belong to Qatar Duty Free. Large areas clearly allocated to retail remain covered in generic HIA hoardings. It’s unclear how many of these outlets will be ready to open in time for May 27th, when all of DIA’s remaining flights will move over to the facility.
However, despite the current lack of retail and dining diversions, passengers departing from the terminal this morning appeared to be enjoying the lack of queues at passport control and security, and check in areas also seemed to be functioning well.
Doha News spoke to a group of Nepalese passengers eagerly awaiting a flight to Kathmandu this morning. They said that they were impressed by the new airport, which they found to be “much better” than DIA.
Meanwhile, passengers landing at the airport have also reported a smooth experience, although some told Doha News that their friends and relatives had been late picking them up due to the unfamiliar road layout around the airport.
Passengers arriving at one airport and departing from another during the changeover period will be able to use free transfer buses being laid on by the airport authorities.
The HIA was originally supposed to be completed in 2009. It has since missed several opening deadlines, including Dec. 12, 2012 (12/12/12) and April 1, 2013, when the launch was scrapped only an hour before a passenger plane was set to land.
Earlier this month, I went along to a press conference held at the St Regis hotel in Doha to mark the first anniversary of British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s two restaurants there.
He’d opened the two outlets after the closure of his first Qatar venture, Maze, due to a recent ban on alcohol sales on its location – luxury island The Pearl – so naturally, the topic of alcohol was on the discussion table.
I asked him whether he still believed the Pearl alcohol ban wouldn’t continue, and his response to that question formed the lead of the resulting Doha News story.
Not content with this response, however, he went on to tell us about the seizure of a treasured bottle of Dom Perignon champagne from his suitcase by Qatari customs officials on his arrival in Doha a couple of days earlier. Apparently unaware of the fact that it’s illegal to bring alcohol into Qatar (you can only buy it here with a license from the country’s solitary booze shop, or from five star hotels) he’d packed the bottle, a present from a friend, in his bag.
We included this tale further down our story. No other Qatar-based outlets have written about this yet, as far as I know – probably due to the extent of self-censorship in the country.
Anyhow, this anecdote has since spread far and wide, unfortunately largely uncredited to Doha News (and, in one case, plagiarised by an agency who sold the story on to the UK’s Daily Star – we’re attempting to get that rectified.)
If you spot it in the wild, could you let me know?
Earlier this month, Doha News ran a very popular exclusive – pictures and an accompanying story about the surprise installation of controversial sculpture “Coup de Tête” – or “Head Butt” in English – by Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed on Doha’s corniche. The work captures the moment when French football player Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup.
The story was the result of a meeting with the Qatar Museums Authority, who agreed to give me advance warning of the installation. The resulting post spread virally, becoming one of our most popular stories this month so far.
The statue has so far caused a fair amount of controversy, being labelled, amongst other things, as un-Islamic and promoting violence.
This week, I wrote a pretty hard-hitting piece for Doha News about the fate of women in Qatar who give birth to illegitimate babies. If they do so, they’re breaking the law, and they receive a guaranteed jail sentence, which they serve with their babies.
For the piece, I spoke to one woman who is currently on the run in Qatar after giving birth to a baby girl eight months ago out of wedlock. She will inevitably have to hand herself in and serve her sentence. I also include an extract from a desperate email I received last year from a woman in similar situation, who’s now also in jail. It was this email which sparked off my investigation.
Last Thursday brought astonishing news. The verdict in the Villaggio fire trial – the trial of those accused of negligence leading to the deaths of 19 people in Doha’s Villaggio Mall last year – was announced, and it was one we hadn’t expected. Five of the defendants were given jail terms for involuntary manslaughter, including Qatar’s Ambassador to Belgium and his wife, the daughter of Qatar’s culture minister.
With the help of our translator Riham, who was outside the court, I broke the story first on Twitter, and wrote and updated the story for Doha News throughout the day. Here‘s the story in full.
The convicted five are still out pending an appeal, which could take up to 12 months.