- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 24 (UPI) — A high court in Qatar Monday endorsed the death sentence on a Jordanian journalist for allegedly spying for his country despite Jordanian diplomatic efforts to secure the defendant's release.

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network said the Court of Appeals in the capital, Doha, ratified the ruling against Firas Majali after the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, endorsed the verdict.

The channel said Majali was condemned to death by hanging or by a shooting squad.

Jordanian officials in the capital, Amman, privately said they were "shocked" by the ruling, and by the emir's endorsement of the verdict before an appeal was made.

They said Amman has been trying to secure the release of Majali, who hails from a prominent Jordanian tribe in the southern city of Karak, since a Qatari criminal court found him guilty of "spying for Jordan" in October.

Jordan's King Abdullah II paid a one-day visit to Paris last month for reconciliation talks with the emir of Qatar after ties between the two Arab countries deteriorated in August.

Tensions were sparked after Al Jazeera aired a talk show in which a guest accused Jordan of being a "historical traitor" to Palestinian and Arab causes. Jordan shut down the channel's bureau in Amman and withdrew its correspondents' credentials. It then filed an official protest with the Qatari government and eventually recalled its ambassador from Doha "for consultations."

The official media also dedicated many pages of commentaries in criticizing both the channel for its "campaign in insulting Jordan," and Qatar, which it said was owned by the Gulf state's foreign minister.

After the October verdict against Majali, however, the government asked the media to tone down its criticism of Qatar and allow for "quiet diplomacy" to try to secure the release of the journalist and restore ties with the oil-rich state.

Jordanian officials said Monday they were still hopeful that Qatar's emir would eventually pardon Majali, who worked as a reporter for state-owned Qatar Television, and deport him back home.

Majali, 36, was accused of passing on "classified information" to Jordanian intelligence services on the movements of two Jordanian Hamas leaders whom Amman deported to Qatar two years ago.

Majali's family members and friends, who insisted on his innocence, launched a campaign across the kingdom to secure his release. None of them could be reached for comment.

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