Qatar jails a Nepali teacher on charges of insulting Islam

A Nepali teacher who taught chemistry at Qatar Academy has been jailed in Doha on felony charges for insulting Islam.

Dorje Gurung (dorjegurung.com)
Dorje Gurung (dorjegurung.com)

Dorje Gurung, who has taught chemistry to middle and high school students in the United States, Britain and Australia, appeared in a Doha court on Thursday. If convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison, according to Doha News.

Gurung was fired from Qatar Academy after arguments with students on April 22 and 23. Although he was set to leave the country, he was summoned by the police and has been jailed since last Wednesday, according to The Himalayan Times.

Gurung has been accused of comparing all Muslims to terrorists. But two of his friends shared Gurung's version with Doha News:

On Monday, April 22, Gurung said he had a sit-down chat with three 12-year-old boys who were making fun of him. Among other things, the seventh graders poked fun at his appearance, calling him “Jackie Chan,” a famous Chinese actor.

On Tuesday, April 23, the mocking again began in earnest while Gurung was in line for lunch. At first, he said the teasing was light-hearted, but then one student put his hand on Gurung’s shoulder and a finger in his nose. At this point, Gurung grew agitated and said remarks to the effect of, how would you like to be stereotyped i.e. called a terrorist?

Gurung has no legal representation, but the Nepali embassy is seeking permission from the Kathmandu government to meet with Gurung, Doha News reports. Without a lawyer, Gurung's friends fear he would not get a fair trial. The court would rely on the complaints from Qatar Academy's students, they said.

News of the charges spread quickly to Nepal, where Gurung attended the prestigious St. Xavier's School and later won scholarships to study in Italy and the United States.Friends say Gurung's words were taken out of context. "Because of his education, his travels and the worldly students he teaches, one can say that he is one of the most cosmopolitan, open-minded and fair persons," Ashutosh Tiwari, who attended school with Gurung and works on water issues in Nepal, said in an e-mail. "He is a kind, gentle person who loves nothing more than teaching chemistry to students and getting them excited about science."

Gurung maintains his own Web site, where he blogs about chemistry, his classes and the state of education in Nepal.

Gurung's friends say he was planning to return to Nepal to start a school for neglected Nepali children. "He is very much in touch with where he came from and how he made his life better despite all odds of being born in a low socio-economic family, " Jay Shrestha, who said Gurung was his best friend while attending St. Xavier's in Kathmandu, said in an e-mail.

Religion is a sensitive issue in Qatar, the U.S. State Department notes and recommends that "discussing religious issues, or answering questions about a religion, should be treated with care and sensitivity."

The country also strictly controls freedom of expression, especially when it comes to the leadership. Earlier this year, Qatar jailed a poet for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government, after finding a YouTube video of him reciting a poem criticizing Qatar’s ruler, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Anup Kaphle is the Post's digital foreign editor. He has an M.S. degree in journalism from Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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