This site was created to generate awareness about the unjust imprisonment of American citizen John Wesley Downs


John and his daughter, Margaret, in 2005

John and his sister, Julie, in 2017.

John in Doha Central Prison 2017.

Case Summary

Since 2005, John Wesley Downs, an American geophysicist, has been unjustly imprisoned in Qatar, and, absent political intervention, likely will die in prison, as his sentence is purportedly “perpetual.”  By any standard, the sentence is grossly illegal, as it is based on the false claim that John Wesley was a foreign spy seeking to steal billions of dollars in secrets to harm Qatar. 


Leading attorneys from the Innocence Network in the U.S. have determined that the throughout the case, Qatari authorities violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Qatar is a signatory. Qatar violated the following twelve Articles:


  1. Article 7 – Prohibition Against Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

  2. Article 9(1) – Prohibition Against Arbitrary Detention

  3. Article 9(2) – Prohibition Against Arrest without Explanation

  4. Article 9(3) – Presumption of Bail

  5. Article 9(4) – Right to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention

  6. Article 10(2)(a) – Right of Accused to Appropriate Treatment As Unconvicted Person 

  7. Article 11(2) – Right to Leave Country

  8. Article 14 (1) – Right to a Public Hearing

  9. Article 14(2) – Right to Presumption of Innocence

  10. Article 14(3)(b) – Right to Select Counsel and Adequate Time and Facilities to Prepare Defense 

  11. Article 14(3)(c) – Right to a Timely Trial

  12. Article 14(3)(e) – Right to Cross-Examine and Present Key Witnesses

Background - Thirteen years ago, John Wesley Downs, from Arkansas, made a foolish mistake while working for an oil and gas company in Qatar.  He offered to illegally sell data belonging to his employer and was caught before his offer could be accepted.  He should have been fired from his job and faced a civil suit to compensate his employer for any damages resulting from his attempt.  He should even perhaps have been convicted of a minor crime akin to theft.  Instead, Qatari politics interjected itself into John Wesley’s case and he was wrongfully accused of working as a foreign spy. He was tried and convicted based on conduct he never committed or even contemplated, and on considerations that should not have played a role in his prosecution.  All of this occurred without adequate due process, as he was often without access to an attorney, kept in solitary confinement, and not permitted an opportunity to confront the “evidence” supposedly proving his guilt.  In fact, today he has never had access to the evidence presented against him. 


John Wesley Downs is now 62 years old. He has spent the last 13 years of his life languishing in prison in Qatar. He is the father of three exceptional and devoted children—Nick now 31, Margaret 29, and Tom 26—who, along with John Wesley’s sister and brother-in-law, have for years worked tirelessly to try to bring him home. During this time, they have watched the Qatari government pardon and deport dangerous criminals who committed horrific acts in Qatar, including real spies, professional assassins from Russia, and even the authors of an attempted coup. Yet, the Downs family’s pleas for clemency have been rejected or ignored. 


Until recently, John Wesley and his family believed John Wesley’s “life sentence” was a twenty-five year sentence, and that John Wesley would likely be pardoned after serving half of that time. Historically, this has been the norm in Qatar. This common knowledge was supported by the US Embassy in Doha, domestic and foreign attorneys, as well as the family’s other contacts within Qatar.  When John Wesley reached the halfway point at the end of 2017, his family submitted what they believed would be his final pardon application.  They were shocked when the pardon was not granted and they were informed that his sentence was presumptively until he died in prison.  They only recently have begun to fear that John Wesley may never return home.


At the same time, the relationship between the US and Qatar currently appears to be amicable, which provides a fresh hope. Together with a new group of experts specializing in complex legal cases, the family is reviving the effort to bring John Wesley home.


The media has chronicled the story of a bookish American geophysicist wrongfully sentenced to perpetual imprisonment in Qatar, yet the real story of John Wesley has not been told.  The actual facts recently submitted to the Qatar government via the US State Department, make clear that clemency is warranted.


We humbly request that Qatar show mercy and to release John Wesley Downs so that he may live out what remains of his life with his children and grandchildren.