More than 21 months ago, when Mohammad Shareeq and Oniba Qureshi left for Qatar on what they believed would be a second honeymoon, they could not have imagined they would end up in prison with a 10-year sentence for a drug offence.
The couple returned home on Thursday morning, after spending a year and nine months behind bars in Qatar. Still traumatised, they rued having trusted an aunt who had tried to use them as a courier for drugs.
The aunt has since been arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) for running a “well-organised drug trafficking syndicate”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Shareeq recalled the night the aunt, Tabassum Qureshi, had called them and insisted they make the trip to Qatar. Oniba was one month pregnant at the time.
“We were about to sleep (on July 3, 2019), when she rang to say that she wanted to send us on a second honeymoon, and had bought our tickets for Doha.” He was initially reluctant, Shareeq said, because he hadn’t applied for leave at work – but ultimately allowed himself to be persuaded by Tabassum.
He took leave and they left for Bengaluru on July 4, from where they were to catch the flight to Doha.
At the airport, Tabassum handed Oniba a bag, saying a friend would come to take it from their hotel in Doha. What the couple did not know then that 4.1 kg of hashish was concealed inside the bag.
In Bengaluru, a friend of Tabassum’s approached them, checked the bag, and asked them to put some more clothes in it, Shareeq said. That made him suspicious, and he demanded an explanation from his aunt over the phone. “She told us there was just tobacco inside, and asked us to trust her. We believed her because she was a relative,” Shareeq said.
However, he started recording every conversation with Tabassum after that, Shareeq said. It was that which ultimately helped establish his innocence, Shareeq said.
As the couple landed in Doha on July 6, they were confronted at immigration by Qatari drug enforcement officials. “They started inspecting our bags. They tore open the bag that our aunt had given us, and took out the hashish,” Shareeq said.
For the next seven days, the couple were asked the same questions again and again: Whose bag is this? Who gave you this bag? Who were you supposed to deliver this bag to? Who are your contacts?
“We had only one answer – that our aunt Tabassum Qureshi gave us this bag, and we knew nothing else,” the couple said.
They were kept in a small, windowless, extremely cold room, Shareeq said. “The walls were black. Just a faint reflection of light entered the room through a small hole. There were two airconditioning ducts. It was freezing inside, but the blankets were too dirty and smelly to use,” he added.
The couple were subsequently moved to the central jail in Doha. Five months later, they were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“We had lost all hope. We would just cry all day. We could not imagine why our aunt did this to us,” Oniba said. The couple were kept apart, and met only four times in the year and nine months that they spent in prison. “Our daughter Ayat was born on February 26, but I did not get to see her for eight months,” Shareeq said.
Meanwhile, members of the couple’s family pursued their case with authorities in India. The NCB, which was investigating, arrested six people including the aunt.
In February, the Court of Cassation, the highest court in the Qatari system, accepted the couple’s appeal. On March 29, the court ordered their release. After completion of formalities, the couple could finally board a flight back to India on Wednesday evening.