LGBTQ+ people arrested and abused in Qatar, Human Rights Watch reports

As Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, six queer locals shared their experiences of being physically and verbally abused by security forces in the nation.

A Qatar flag blowing in the wind.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

CW: Descriptions of physical violence, sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

On Monday, October 24, it was revealed by Human Rights Watch that LGBTQ+ people in Qatar continue to be arbitrarily arrested and ill-treated by authorities while in detention. The organisation interviewed members of the local queer community about their experiences in the country since 2019, and heard of six cases of severe and repeated beatings, and five cases of sexual harassment, while detainees were in police custody.

Six queer Qataris were interviewed, including four Trans women, one bisexual woman, and one gay man, all of whom had been reportedly arrested in public places based solely on their gender expression. All interviewees were detained without charge, and had their phones unlawfully searched, with officers taking screenshots of private pictures and conversations, as well as contact information of other LGBTQ+ people in Qatar.

Each claims to have been held in an underground prison in Al Dafneh, Doha, where they were verbally harassed and physically abused including being slapped, kicked and punched until they bled. One woman even said that she was left unconscious as a result of the abuse. Authorities are also accused of extracting forced confessions, and denying detainees access to legal counsel, family and medical care.

All six people said that they had been forced to sign slips pledging that they would “cease immoral activity”, and in order for the Trans women to secure release, forces mandated that they attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored “behavioural healthcare” centre.

Detailing her experience, one Trans woman explained that after being accused of “imitating women”, she was arrested and beaten in the police car until her lips and nose were bleeding. “You gays are immoral, so we will be the same to you,” one officer reportedly told her.

“I saw many other LGBT people detained there: two Moroccan lesbians, four Filipino gay men, and one Nepalese gay man,” she remembered. “I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me. Part of the release requirement was attending sessions with a psychologist who ‘would make me a man again.”

Another Trans woman said she was arrested because she was wearing makeup. “They gave me hand wipes and made me wipe the makeup off my face,” she recalled. The stained wipes were then allegedly used as evidence against her, and authorities also shaved her hair. As a condition for her release, the woman had to pledge not to wear makeup again.

A third Trans woman was detained twice, once for two months in solitary confinement, and another time for six weeks. “They beat me every day and shaved my hair. They also made me take off my shirt and took a picture of my breasts.

“I suffered from depression because of my detention. I still have nightmares to this day, and I’m terrified of being in public,” she confessed.

The bisexual woman interviewed, who was beaten until she lost consciousness, said that the Preventive Security officers blindfolded her and took her “to another place that felt like a private home from the inside and forced me to watch restrained people getting beaten as an intimidation tactic.”

The LGBTQ+ interviewees’ accounts were from as recently as September of this year, as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup throughout November and December. FIFA has faced an onslaught of criticism for its decision to grant hosting rights to the Gulf nation, largely due to the country’s treatment of migrant workers and queer people. Homosexuality remains criminalised in the state, and punishable by time in prison, or even death under Sharia law.

“While Qatar prepares to host the World Cup, security forces are detaining and abusing LGBT people simply for who they are, apparently confident that the security force abuses will go unreported and unchecked,” said Rasha Younes, Human Rights Watch’s LGBT rights researcher. “Qatari authorities need to end impunity for violence against LGBT people. The world is watching,” she added.

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