Situation in Qatar worse after the World Cup?: LGBTIQ+ community suffers in secret re-education centers

Situation in Qatar worse after the World Cup?
LGBTIQ+ community suffers in secret re-education centers

By David Needy

Before the World Cup in Qatar, the mistreatment of the LGBTIQ+ community in the emirate is often an issue. A new documentary now shows: The suffering continues, even in secret conversion centers. But what part does the West play in this with its rainbow protests?

Discrimination, harassment, arbitrary arrests, illegal searches of phones, abuse in detention: This is what everyday life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTIQ+) people in Qatar and other regions of the Middle East often looks like. Before the 2022 World Cup and after. A life of secrecy and fear.

Like the documentary “Red card instead of rainbow – queer Qataris continue to suffer” (0.25 a.m. on Thursday/RTL, at the same time on RTL+ for retrieval) from RTL/ntv shows that the situation of the queer community in the emirate has continued to deteriorate after the World Cup. Not only the government and the forces of the Department of Preventive Security of the Interior Ministry are cracking down. The citizens of one of the richest countries in the world are also increasingly rejecting the LGBTIQ+ community in public, which is probably also a result of the 2022 World Cup and attempts by the West to fight for queer and trans rights.

The documentary lets the Qatari transwoman Faisal speak, who explains that since March 2023 there has been increased action against homosexual citizens. Qatar has “now become even more conservative and strict,” says Faisal, whose face is not shown and whose voice is not reproduced for security reasons because she still lives in Qatar. An online video this spring shows Qataris beating and kicking a suspected homosexual. Not an isolated case according to RTL/ntv research.

‘Pray away’ homosexuality?

According to the research, secret conversion therapy centers have been operating in Qatar for years, where LGBTIQ+ people are being held against their will and are said to be “transformed” to become straight. Conversion therapy is a widely condemned practice aimed at changing a person’s sexual and/or gender identity. The United Nations (UN) condemns the practice in the strongest possible terms.

Abdullah A. is said to have escaped from one such re-education center. A gay Qatari man who was granted asylum in the UK in 2017 and died of an overdose in 2021. In the documentary, his best friend Vanessa Ager says: “It was a religious institute where they tried to re-educate him so that friends and family would recognize him as a straight man. If they were hoping he could ‘pray away’ his homosexuality, that would be he’d been there for the rest of his life.”

According to a report in the US news magazine “Newsweek” last December, one of these centers is only a five-minute drive from the Lusail Stadium, where Argentina won the World Cup trophy. “According to Qataris, LGBT+ people can be detained there against their will and subjected to abusive so-called treatments to make them straight,” Peter Tatchell, director of the human rights organization Peter Tatchell Foundation, told the magazine.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) had in one report documented six cases of serious and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment in police custody from last October between 2019 and 2022. As a condition of their release, the security forces ordered detained transgender women to undergo conversion therapy at a government-sponsored “behavioural medicine” center.

Qatar contradicts reports

A Qatari government official, in response to the HWR investigations containing claims about the centers, told DW that “information is categorically and unequivocally false,” adding that “the Qatari government does not operate ‘conversion centers’ or The rehabilitation clinic mentioned in the report only assists “individuals suffering from behavioral disorders such as drug addiction, eating disorders and mood disorders” and operates “to the highest international medical standards.” Qatar has no laws prohibiting conversion therapy.

The emirate is a conservative Muslim country and homosexuality is illegal, the laws and cultural norms are based on traditional gender roles and norms. There is no established LGBTIQ+ movement. Under Article 285 of the Qatari Penal Code, having sex outside of marriage, including same-sex relationships, is punishable by up to seven years in prison. According to Sharia, Muslims can even be sentenced to death. However, there is very little evidence that this law is enforced. LGBTIQ+ detainees are rarely charged, their arbitrary arrests and detentions arguably based on that Law No. 17 of 2002 on Community Protection, which allows provisional detention without charge or trial for up to six months if “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused may have committed a criminal offense”, including “violation of public morals”. There is no legal protection for LGBTQI+ people in Qatar.

Everything was supposed to get better with the mega event last winter. At least according to statements by the organizers and the world football association FIFA. Back in 2020, Qatar assured potential visitors that it would welcome LGBTIQ+ visitors and that fans would be free to fly the rainbow flag at World Cup football matches. It is well known that not much was left of the rainbow openness at the tournament. The documentary shows how fans have to put down rainbow paraphernalia. Symbols of the Iran protests were also increasingly banned in Qatar from game to game.

FIFA, which awarded Qatar the World Cup in 2010, won the 2016 United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights adopted, which commit them to “avoid violations of the human rights of others and to address adverse human rights impacts”. It calls on FIFA to take appropriate action to “prevent, mitigate and remedy” human rights impacts. But at the tournament, the world association cuddled in front of Qatar’s rulers.

Harmful LGBTIQ+ protest from the West

So what did the World Cup do? “The rainbow symbolism did us more harm than good,” says Faisal. “Some now think that LGBTIQ+ is an import from the West.” That made many people in Qatar even angrier. Because everything that comes out of the West is despised by the powerful conservatives and their supporters. Of course, those in power take advantage of this resentment. Indeed, even during the World Cup, Western protests, which rarely took full account of the realities of the people in the emirate, were seen as harmful by queer Qataris.

Dictation instead of dialogue: An analysis of ““, a Deutsche Welle portal that wants to build a bridge to the Islamic world, comes to the conclusion that a group has been unintentionally dragged into the limelight that would rather remain in the background due to acute dangers. And that has been fighting against the claim for some time, to be a western invention.

Against the background of the RTL/ntv research, a written statement by FIFA on the documentary seems cynical: “If the discussions surrounding the FIFA World Cup in Qatar have led to the issue of LGBTIQ+ rights in the region beyond the tournament Since we were able to discuss more openly and break some taboos, we think this is a step in the right direction.” The Federal Ministry of the Interior around Sports Minister Nancy Faeser and the Federal Chancellery declined to comment.

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