LONDON: A British travel industry expert found hanged in Doha in 2019 told friends he had been arrested and tortured by Qatari secret police 10 weeks before his death, The Times reported on Thursday.
Marc Bennett, 52, had been hired by Qatar Airways to work on improving tourism to the Gulf country ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
He was arrested at the company’s Doha headquarters, blindfolded and handcuffed, and told friends he had been stripped, hosed, assaulted, and subjected to sleep deprivation over a period of three weeks in detention.
He was then prevented from leaving the country after his release, not knowing if he would be re-arrested, and placed in “legal limbo,” according to his family.
His arrest came after he resigned from Qatar Airways and received a job offer from a Saudi travel firm, something a former colleague said had been taken as a “massive insult” by figures within the company.
Qatar Airways said Bennett, who worked closely with the airline’s CEO Akbar Al-Baker, was discovered to have sent “highly confidential documents” to a private email address, which was reported to police.
Bennett was released on Nov. 2, 2019, the day before a UN legal team was due to visit Qatar to inspect the state of the country’s detention centers over allegations of human rights abuses.
The team from the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention was denied access to the facility he was held at.
Bennett was left at a hotel in Doha with no documents relating to his arrest or any legal proceedings he might face.
A Qatari coroner ruled Bennett’s death suicide, but a British coroner said there was “no specific evidence of suicidal intent” and “the circumstances of the months leading up to his death remain unclear.”
Bennett left no suicide note, and despite being popular, with a wide circle of friends and family, gave no indication of intending to take his own life.
The night before his death, he was described as “laughing and joking” during a video call with his family back in the UK.
His widow Nancy Bennett, 51, told The Times: “There are so many questions. He left here with the whole world ahead of him.”
The UN legal team investigating human rights abuses in Qatar has said there are “credible allegations” that the unit that detained Bennett engages in extra-judicial arrests and mistreatment of prisoners.
“When the working group decided to visit one of the state security detention facilities, in relation to which it had received credible allegations of prolonged detention without judicial control and of ill-treatment, it was prevented from doing so,” it said.
“Equally, when the working group visited some other places of deprivation of liberty, it found these facilities nearly empty and received credible reports that detainees had been transferred to other facilities prior to its arrival.”
An investigation into Bennett’s treatment and death by the UK Foreign Office was closed, despite the findings of the coroner and concerns of the family, by Liz Truss, a week after she became foreign secretary in September 2021.
Truss, now the UK’s prime minister, visited Qatar in October that year for “strategic dialogue,” and to foster “deeper co-operation on security, development, trade and investment.”
In May 2020, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, announced a £10 billion ($10.845 billion) investment package for the UK.
Qatar has faced routine accusations of mistreatment of foreign workers in the build up to the World Cup.
The Mail on Sunday reported that of the approximately 30,000 recruited to build infrastructure for the tournament, 2,823 foreign laborers have died in Qatar since 2011 in unexplained circumstances, with another 551 committing suicide.
One British businessman told The Times: “Whether you’re a Pakistani laborer or a well-to-do British guy, you will be treated like dirt if your employer turns against you.
“It feels like you’re a slave. You can’t even leave the country for a weekend away without the permission of your employer.”
A Foreign Office spokesman told The Times: “We provided assistance to the family of a British man following his death in Doha.”