‘Shook us to our core’: Daughter of Australian professor detained in Qatar pleads for answers

The family of an Australian father and son who are currently detained in an unknown location in Qatar says they are desperate for information about their wellbeing.

Professor Lukman Thalib has been detained in Qatar  alongside his son for almost five months.

Professor Lukman Thalib has been detained in Qatar alongside his son for almost five months. Source: Supplied

Until almost five months ago, Lukman Thalib was an accomplished public health professor working passionately to fight the coronavirus pandemic in Qatar.

But, according to his daughter Maryam Talib, that all when at least six people in plain clothes barged into his security complex - “kidnapping style” - and arrested Professor Thalib, 58, and his son, Ismail Talib, 24.

“No words, no paper, no charge, nothing was presented,” she told SBS News from Turkey. 

Ms Talib’s mother and younger sister were also at the complex when the arrests took place. 

“It shook us to our core … we’ve got absolutely no idea what’s been going on. Why on earth things have unfolded the way they are. I’m just hoping it’s a big mistake.”

Australian Professor Lukman Thalib (right) and his son, Ismail Talib, have been detained in Qatar for almost five months.
Professor Lukman Thalib (right) and his son, Ismail Talib. Source: Supplied/CAGE

CAGE, a London-based advocacy group that is supporting the family, believes the arrests are linked to allegations by the that Professor Thalib’s other son, Ahmed Talib, had financially supported terrorist group Al-Qa’ida through his Melbourne-based gemstone company. 

No charges have been laid in regards to the allegations, which came to light three months after Professor Thalib and Mr Talib’s arrest. The Australian Federal Police executed search warrants on his Doncaster home, in Victoria, on 20 October.

An AFP spokesperson said they could not comment further on any allegations. 

“It just begs the question, is this a politically motivated witch-hunt? … We want answers as a family, that’s all we want,” Ms Talib said. 

The family went public with their father and brother’s plight on Monday in a desperate bid for information about their location and wellbeing. 

Ms Talib says she holds particular concerns for her father’s health as he is a survivor of acute myeloid leukemia. 

“My dad's just been travelling the world. He loves his work, he loves his research,” Ms Talib said. “I won’t lie, it’s crossed our mind: will they come out of this?” 

Before moving to the middle east, where he took up a position at Qatar University, Professor Thalib worked as a lecturer in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Queensland’s Griffith University.

A university spokesperson confirmed Professor Thalib had a research association with the institution in recent years and they held concerns for his wellbeing. 

For about 40 days after the arrests, the family was unable to contact the pair and was given no information about their whereabouts.

Since then, Professor Thalib has been permitted two 10-minute phone calls to his wife each week, during which Ms Talib said he is often drowsy and unable to answer questions.

“Sometimes he struggles to understand … just basic questions of how he’s doing and sometimes he wasn’t able to finish his sentence properly because of what we came to learn was the intense torture he’s been put under, and the kind of conditions he’s been kept in,” she said.

The family have been unable to speak to their son and brother Mr Talib since his arrest. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Monday confirmed they were providing consular assistance to two Australian men detained in Qatar, but did not provide further details citing privacy obligations. 

“I would desperately like to appeal to everyone and anyone in a position to make any change, … who can help the situation,” Ms Talib said.

“There is something called due process, and this is what we are calling for as a family. We are demanding due process for whatever it is that is happening in this case. 

“We need my brother home, we need my father home, it’s been too long.”

4 min read
Published 16 December 2020 at 10:42am
By Maani Truu, Evan Young