A month before Qatar hosts the World Cup, a new report finds that security forces in the conservative Muslim country have been arresting, beating and sexually harassing LGBTQ+ people.
In an October 24 report from Human Rights Watch (HRW), six LGBTQ+ Qataris—four trans women, one gay man and a bisexual woman—said that officers kept them in an underground prison, where they physically abused them, sometimes until they bled. The officers also reportedly denied them access to medical care, verbally abused them and forced them to sign papers saying that they would “cease immoral activity.”
A trans woman further claimed that Qatari police forced her to undergo the discredited, harmful practice of conversion therapy following her detention.
“I saw many other LGBTQ+ people detained there: two Moroccan lesbians, four Filipino gay men and one Nepalese gay man,” she told the international human rights watchdog. “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.’”
Other detainees recounted similar stories. A trans woman said the officers shaved her head and forced her to sign a pledge that she wouldn’t wear makeup as a condition of her release. A bisexual woman alleged that they beat her until she lost consciousness “several times” and forced her to watch other prisoners get beaten.
“I suffered from depression because of my detention,” said a trans woman who was detained twice and held in solitary confinement for two months. “I still have nightmares to this day, and I’m terrified of being in public.”
The detainees interviewed by HRW were neither charged with a crime nor received any records of having been detained—acts that could be defined as arbitrary detention under international human rights laws. The security officers forced all of them to unlock their phones and share private messages, photos and contacts of other LGBTQ+ people.
Qatari officials denied the claims, telling Reuters that the HRW report is “categorically and unequivocally false.” A spokesperson for the Gulf State declined to offer a further response to the allegations.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, where extramarital sex—including same-sex relations—is punishable by a sentence of up to seven years in prison. Qatari law also allows for provisional detention up to six months—without trial or even a formal charge brought against them—if someone is thought to have committed a crime, including “violating public morality.”
The report arrives a month before Qatar is set to host the World Cup, which commences November 20. Although officials claimed in December 2020 that the country would be hospitable toward LGBTQ+ visitors during the quadrennial soccer games, the months leading up to the event have seen Qatari hotels reportedly refusing accommodations for LGBTQ+ guests and a senior FIFA official warning that rainbow flags may be confiscated to “protect” queer and trans fans.
Public figures, including singer Elton John, Olympic diver Tom Daley and soccer player Josh Cavallo, have criticized FIFA’s decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup, with some calling for a boycott of the tournament. LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell was arrested and briefly detained on October 25 for holding a public protest of Qatar’s policies near the country’s national museum in Doha.
“I stand in solidarity with those brave Qatari human rights defenders who cannot express their point of view because they fear arrest, jail and possibly even torture. I salute them,” he said in a statement following his release. “They are the true heroes.”
Celebrities promoting Qatar and the upcoming World Cup games have attracted criticism in light of the country’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people. Former British soccer star David Beckham, who has played in three World Cup finals, was reportedly paid millions to promote the country, riding around on a motorcycle and sampling local foods in ads.
The promotion attracted criticism from Dr. Nas Mohamed, the first Qatari to publicly come out as gay. In an open letter, Mohamed claimed that was “stamping out hope for the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar.”
“This whitewashing of the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar does not just erase the pain of those suffering from it, but also undermines their pleas for asylum when they do escape,” Mohamed wrote, as U.K. newspaper The Independent originally reported. “After all, if David Beckham describes Qatar as ‘perfection,’ how bad could it really be?”
In the report, HRW called upon all stakeholders in the World Cup to do their part in ending the persecution of LGBTQ+ Qataris.
“The Qatari government should call an immediate halt to this abuse and FIFA should push the Qatari government to ensure long-term reform that protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination and violence,” said Rasha Younes, LGBTQ+ rights researcher for HRW. “The world is watching.”