Dorje Gurung, the Nepali teacher detained in Qatar last week, returned to Kathmandu on Monday night after an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying by human rights groups, diplomats and his friends around the world.
Gurung taught chemistry in the Qatar Academy where a 12-year-old Qatari student accused him of insulting Islam last month. He was fired by the school, and later detained. His classmates in Nepal and the United States launched a Facebook page which immediately got more than 2,000 likes as well as an online petition which brought thousands of signatories from around the world.
HOME SWEET HOME: Dorje Gurung hugs his mother and is welcomed back to Nepal on Monday at Kathmandu airport after being released from detention in Qatar. Photo: Alka Shrestha
But in the end, it appears to have been quiet, low-key diplomacy that brought about Gurung’s release. Said one civil society activist involved: “It was a really complex effort on multiple fronts, many that had nothing to do with each other.”
Friends and campaigners were torn between going into a full frontal attack to embarrass the Qatar government and get Gurung’s release, or lobbying behind-the-scenes to put subtle pressure on the highest levels of the Qatari hierarchy. Campaigners said full-scale publicity through the international media and social networks could have backfired.
In the end, the Qatari government also decided not to court international publicity, and quietly dropped the charges to release Gurung. There may have been much more international publicity if Gurung had been a westerner, but within Nepal social network sites have also pointed out that although Gurung got domestic media attention there are hundreds of other Nepali workers who are in detention in Qatar.
On landing back in Kathmandu on Monday, an emotional Gurung thanked everyone who campaigned on his behalf for the “gift of freedom”. He said he wept when his colleagues from the Qatar Academy came to get him when he was released from prison on Sunday.
Gurung, who taught science in Nepal and in various international schools around the world, is now with his family in Nepal. He has said he wants to start a school for underprivileged children in Nepal.
Public statement by Dorje Gurung after his release:
I still can find no words to thank you enough, words that sufficiently express my own and family’s gratitude, for the gift the thousands of you have given me. The gift of freedom! (Ask any of my friends and colleagues Qatar Academy who received me upon my release yesterday afternoon—I was just a wreck. All I could do was cry and bawl.)
Many who know me well know firstly that I don’t make promises easily, certainly not publicly, and secondly that any promise I make i don’t make lightly. As today is an exceptional day and in appreciation of your incredible thoughts and actions, I’m going make a promise to you all, to my amazing friends, teachers, colleagues, students and well wishers around the world and to myself.
A promise to make every effort to make this gift of freedom worth the time and effort you invested in winning it for me.
Dorje Gurung in Doha News