On July 21, a Qatari court is expected to start considering an appeal filed by two Russian nationals who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the alleged murder of Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhain Yandarbiyev in Doha.
Qatar's ex-Justice Minister Najib al-Nuaimi, a lawyer who is currently heading the committee for the protection of Guantanamo prisoners, said this in an interview with Vremya Novostei, a Russian newspaper, which will be published on Monday.
The court will hold the first, fact-finding meeting. Then the court may adjourn till October. It is expected to announce a decision in the autumn, according to Mr al-Nuaimi.
Mr al-Nuaimi added that the Russian convicts' lawyers could file a complaint with a court of review within a month after the appeals court ruling was announced.
According to the lawyer, this will be the final court instance. The court will decide within a month or two months whether the previous courts' decisions were grounded or not. All judicial phases will end in January or February 2005.
However, Mr al-Nuaimi believes by appealing against the sentence the defence lawyers can only toughen it.
"To the best of my knowledge, the prosecution intended to leave the life imprisonment sentence on condition the defence lawyers should not appeal against it. The prosecution is likely to appeal the sentence too as the defence lawyers already filed the appeal. The prosecution therefore can secure the death sentence. However, I believe this will hopefully not happen," said Mr al-Nuaimi.
The Qatari lawyer said life sentence in Qatar was 25 years. A petition for mercy can be filed in 10 years. However, Russia and Qatar can reach an agreement and the prisoners will serve their sentence in Russia. "This is quite possible and would be the most appropriate solution," said Mr al-Nuaimi.
However, the lawyer emphasised that the prisoners can return to Russia when all judicial phases had been completed.
Mr al-Nuaimi said Russia had over-politicised the trial. Besides, 2 Qatari athletes should not have been arrested in Moscow in the wake of the Russian nationals' arrest in Doha.
"Although the Qataris were released soon, that was a big mistake. It had a negative influence on sentiments in Doha," said the lawyer.
Mr al-Nuaimi said the Russians were kept at a villa, not in prison, throughout the trial.
Mr al-Nuaimi said the Qatari authorities were discussing whether to place the convicts to a prison or leave them at the villa.
If the authorities opt for the former, the Russians will be placed in a VIP prison where conditions are rather good, according to the lawyer.
In that event, the Russian nationals will have separate rooms, with TV-sets, furniture and air conditioners. "There are even servants there. Prisoners are only not allowed to leave. However, they are taken out for walks, and embassy officials can visit them," said Mr al-Nuaimi.
In the early hours of February 19, 2004, Qatar's security services arrested three Russian nationals in Doha who were in the city on a business trip. They were charged with the intended killing of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. One of the detainees, the first secretary of the Russian embassy to Qatar who had diplomatic immunity, was released and returned to Russia in March.
Muhsin al-Suwaidi, the Russians' Qatari defence lawyer, told Qatari reporters after the trial that the verdict did not contain any legal evidence of his defendants' guilt of the murder. The lawyer said the court of appeals would hopefully acquit the Russians or at least modify the sentence.
Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov has said in a statement that Russia will use political and diplomatic channels to ensure the convicts' return to Russia.
Mr Yandarbiyev was killed in a car blast. He had lived in Doha for more than 3 years as a refugee. In 2002, he became the first Chechen separatist who was included in the UN-compiled list of individuals and organisations suspected of links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist net, something on which Russia had insisted. Since 2001, Mr Yandarbieyv and other Chechen separatists had been wanted by the Interpol