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Australian father and son freed after being mysteriously detained in Qatar for almost six months

Professor Lukman Thalib (right) and his son, Ismail Talib. Source: Supplied/CAGE

Australian public health professor Lukman Thalib, 58, and his son, Ismail Talib, 24, have been released after spending almost six months detained at an unknown location in Qatar.

An Australian public health professor and his son have been freed after they were detained in an unknown location in Qatar for almost six months without charge.

Lukman Thalib, 58, and Ismail Talib, 24, were detained at their home in Qatar on 27 July by a group of plain clothes officers, Professor Thalib's daughter Maryam Talib told SBS News last month. 

London-based advocacy group CAGE, which was supporting the family, said they believe the arrests were linked to allegations surrounding another of Professor Thalib's sons.

But on Friday, CAGE said the pair had arrived safely arrived in Turkey, where Ms Talib lives, after being released from the detention centre last week. It is still unclear why the men were arrested and the reason for their sudden release. 

"As a family we were most certainly overwhelmed with joy and could not believe they were finally being released. It was a feeling of deep relief mixed with fears and uncertainty about their wellbeing and the prospects of their health," Ms Talib said in a statement on Friday.

"Currently their recovery and health are really the only priorities for us as a family, so we will be taking all the means to this end during their stay with me in Turkey."

Victoria-based Ahmed Luqman Talib, Professor Thalib's other son, has been accused by the US Treasury Department of providing financial support to terrorist organisation Al-Qa'ida.

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 Ahmed's Doncaster home on 20 October.

In December, Ms Talib said the family had "no idea what's been going on" and expressed grave fears for her father and brother's safety. “I won’t lie, it’s crossed our mind: will they come out of this," she said.

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

After that period, Professor Thalib was permitted two 10-minute phone calls to his wife each week, during which Ms Talib said he was often drowsy and unable to answer basic questions, which they believe was a result of torture.

A CAGE spokesperson detailed the allegations of torture, which included the use of stress positions for prolonged periods of time, threats against family members, sleep deprivation, sensory bombardment with bright lights, isolation and the use of noxious gasses. 

"We are overjoyed at the release of Professor Lukman Thalib and his son Ismail Talib from their arbitrary and torturous detention in Qatar," Naila Ahmed, the head of casework at CAGE, said on Friday.

"It is crucial that the Australian authorities explain in full the level of their involvement and explain their perplexing lack of support to the Thalib family throughout this ordeal."
 
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told SBS News they had provided consular assistance to two Australian men detained in Qatar, but did not provide further details citing privacy obligations.

Prior to his detention, Professor Thalib was the head of the Department of Public Health at Qatar University and was recently working on the country's Scientific Reference and Research Task Force established in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before moving to the middle east, where he took up the 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. 

His son, Mr Talib, was previously working as a security engineer for broadcaster Al Jazeera in Qatar.

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