The authorities arbitrarily restricted the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. A prisoner of conscience was serving a lengthy sentence for writing and reciting poems. Migrant workers, including domestic workers and those employed in high-profile construction projects, continued to face exploitation and abuse. Discrimination against women remained entrenched in both law and practice. The death penalty remained in force; no executions were reported.
In March, Qatar joined the Saudi Arabia-led international coalition that engaged in the armed conflict in Yemen (see Yemen entry).
Freedom of expression
The authorities continued to restrict freedom of expression. Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami (also known as Ibn-Dheeb) remained a prisoner of conscience. He had received a 15-year prison sentence in 2012 for writing and reciting poems deemed by the authorities to be offensive to the Emir and the state. In February, the Minister for Foreign Affairs denied that Mohammed al-Ajami was jailed for his peaceful opinions.1
In May, security authorities detained four media workers, including British journalist Mark Lobel, although they had official authorization to visit Qatar to report on conditions of migrant workers. They were released without charge after two days and were allowed to remain in Qatar.
In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers reported on her 2014 visit to Qatar. She concluded that there were serious shortcomings that negatively affected the enjoyment of human rights in Qatar and the independence and impartiality of those working in the justice system.
The Court of Appeal in the capital Doha confirmed the conviction of Filipino national Ronaldo Lopez Ulep, who received a sentence of life imprisonment in 2014 for espionage. His conviction was largely based on a pre-trial “confession” that he said security officers had forced him to make under torture. The Court of Appeal reduced his sentence to 15 years’ imprisonment, while also confirming the convictions and reducing the sentences of two other Filipinos tried alongside Ronaldo Ulep.
Migrant workers’ rights
Migrant workers, who numbered more than 1.6 million according to the authorities and made up more than 90% of Qatar’s workforce, continued to face exploitation and abuse. The Emir and the Minister for Foreign Affairs both committed to addressing exploitation of migrant workers in the recruitment chain during official visits to India and Nepal respectively, from where many of Qatar’s migrant workers originate. In October the Emir approved changes to the kafala sponsorship system, creating a new system for migrant workers to appeal a sponsor’s decision to refuse them an exit permit to leave the country and increasing the state’s oversight of the process by which workers seek to change jobs or leave Qatar. However, migrant workers were still required to obtain their sponsor’s approval to change jobs or leave the country. The new regime would not be enforceable until at least the end of 2016. In February the Emir approved the introduction of an electronic Wage Protection System that sought to regularize the payment of salaries by requiring all businesses to pay workers by bank transfer.
Migrant workers commonly had their passports confiscated by their employers, in breach of Qatari law, exposing them to forced labour and other abuses. Thousands of workers in construction and related industries continued to live in dirty, overcrowded and often unsafe conditions. The government said it would build new facilities to house up to 258,000 workers by the end of 2016, and announced in August that it had completed the construction of housing for 50,000 workers.
Thousands of domestic workers, most of whom were women, and other migrant workers employed by small companies or in informal work arrangements continued to face the greatest risk of abuse, including forced labour and human trafficking. Workers employed by large companies also complained of chronic labour abuse such as inadequate housing, low pay and late payment of wages, poor working conditions, and of being prevented from changing jobs or leaving the country under the kafala system.
Following the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in April and May, many Nepalese migrant workers complained that employers denied them exit permits to leave Qatar or refused to pay their return airfares, a legal requirement for those whose contracts had ended. Without this support, few could afford to return. Of those who did return to Nepal, many complained that their employers in Qatar withheld pay due to them.
Women faced discrimination in law and in practice, and were inadequately protected against violence within the family. Personal status laws continued to discriminate against women in relation to marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, nationality and freedom of movement.
The Court of Appeal confirmed at least one death sentence. No executions were reported.
- Qatar: Release the poet, Mohammed al-Ajami (MDE 22/2760/2015)