Peter Tatchell stopped in Qatar while staging LGBT+ rights protest

Incident outside National Museum in Doha comes less than a month before start of men’s football World Cup

The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has been stopped by police in Qatar while staging a protest against the Gulf state’s criminalisation of LGBTQ+ people.

Tatchell’s protest outside the National Museum of Qatar in the capital, Doha, comes less than a month before the start of the Fifa World Cup, which is expected to attract 1.2 million visitors from around the world.

Reuters reported that two uniformed police officers and three plainclothes officials arrived at the scene, taking possession of his placard and photographing Tatchell’s passport and other papers, and those of a man accompanying him. Reuters said police left after shaking hands with Tatchell, who remained on the sidewalk.

Tatchell said he and a colleague, Simon Harris, who filmed the protest, were arrested and detained at the scene but the Qatari government has denied this.

The veteran campaigner was holding a placard that read: “Qatar arrests, jails & subjects LGBTs to ‘conversion’ #QatarAntiGay.”

The Peter Tatchell Foundation said it was the first LGBT+ protest in Qatar or any Gulf state.

The incident adds to mounting pressure on Qatar over its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers, as well as other human rights concerns. Qatari law criminalises both male and female homosexuality, with sentences of one to three years for adults convicted of consensual gay or lesbian sex.

Speaking via Zoom from Doha international airport, Tatchell said he was arrested and detained on the roadside by Qatari authorities for 49 minutes after protesting outside the museum for 35 minutes.

He said: “The first carload of security officials arrived in an unmarked Land Rover and started taking photographs. Then about five minutes later a police car arrived. The police came over and took away the placard and began to interrogate me.

“They then notice that my colleague was taking photographs and videos, [and] confiscated his phone, and deleted photographs and videos. They took our passports and boarding passes. We were not allowed to leave or to to continue the protest.

“The police were not abusive or threatening. But they did make it clear that we should go to the airport and leave the country.”

Qatar’s government communications office denied that Tatchell had been arrested. It said in a statement: “Rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit. An individual standing in a traffic roundabout was cordially and professionally asked to move to the sidewalk, no arrests were made.”

Last month, European football federations announced their intention for team captains – including England’s Harry Kane – to wear “One Love” rainbow armbands to symbolise opposition to LGBTQ+ discrimination in Qatar.

Tatchell added: “If a Qatari footballer came out as gay, he would not he would be more likely to be jailed, than be selected for Qatar’s national team. That’s discrimination. It’s against Fifa’s rules, and Fifa is doing nothing about it.”

The human rights campaigner added that Fifa had failed to secure change in Qatar, such as legislative reforms on LGBT+ or women’s rights, adding that the Gulf state had not fulfilled many of the pledges it made when it won the right to hold the World Cup.

Tatchell’s protest comes as Qatar’s ruling emir attacked criticism of his country over its hosting of the World Cup, describing it as an “unprecedented campaign” targeting the first Arab nation to hold the tournament.

In a televised speech before the emirate’s legislative body on Tuesday, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said: “The campaign tends to continue and expand to include fabrications and double standards that were so ferocious that it has unfortunately prompted many people to question the real reasons and motives.”

Human rights groups have credited Qatar with improving its labour laws since it won the right to host the world’s biggest sporting event, such as dismantling the kafala system, for example, which tied a worker to a single employer, and introducing a minimum monthly wage. However, activists call for more to be done.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “Attempts to silence Peter Tatchell simply for drawing attention to Qatar’s outrageous criminalisation of LGBT people is a stark reminder of the repressive climate around freedom of expression in the country.”


David Batty

The GuardianTramp

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