While you are traveling in Qatar, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. It is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings; well-marked signs will usually inform you. Driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. There are also some things that might be legal in Qatar, but still illegal in the United States, and you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Qatar, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what is legal and what is not wherever you go.
Criminal offenses are punished according to Qatari laws, which in some cases are based on Islamic law and sometimes more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Qatari laws, even unknowingly, may be arrested, imprisoned, deported, or subject to a ban from departing Qatar. Travel bans are not lifted until both parties resolve a dispute and the case is abandoned or, if not, until the matter is resolved by a court, which may require months to process the case. Qatari law enforcement authorities have detained potential witnesses or relatives without charges or access to legal counsel during the investigation of a crime.
The U.S. Embassy in Doha cautions U.S. citizens that Qatari police have arrested U.S. citizens suspected of or witness to a crime, including traffic accidents involving injuries to pedestrians or the occupants of other cars, traffic arguments, slander, and a variety of lesser offenses. Once an arrest has been made, the Qatari Police have no independent authority to grant a release, an authority reserved solely for Qatar’s Public Prosecution and Courts. As a result, arrested U.S. citizens, regardless of the charges, often spend one or two nights in jail awaiting a hearing with Qatar’s Public Prosecution or the appropriate court.
Qatari law enforcement authorities do not routinely notify the U.S. Embassy in Doha of a U.S. citizen’s arrest and, for more serious crimes, may not allow a U.S. Embassy official to visit an arrested U.S. citizen until the initial interrogation is completed. Upon arrest, U.S. citizens should ask to speak to the U.S. Embassy immediately, and if not allowed, request that a friend or family member notify the U.S. Embassy through the contact information below.
Incidents involving insults or obscene language/gestures often result in arrest, overnight imprisonment and/or fines whether the incident occurs between private parties or involves officers of the law. Insulting someone in public is considered a punishable offense. Drunk driving, public intoxication and other alcohol-related offenses are treated with severity and will result in arrest, heavy fines, imprisonment, or expulsion from the country. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Qatar are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
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