The authorities unduly restricted the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. One prisoner of conscience was pardoned and released. Migrant workers faced exploitation and abuse. Discrimination against women remained entrenched in both law and practice. The courts imposed death sentences; no executions were reported.
Qatar remained part of the Saudi Arabia-led international coalition engaged in armed conflict in Yemen (see Yemen entry).
Freedoms of expression, association and assembly
The authorities continued to unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The authorities did not permit the existence of independent political parties, and worker associations were only permitted for Qatari citizens if they met strict criteria. Unauthorized public gatherings were not permitted and were dispersed, and laws criminalizing expression deemed offensive to the Emir were maintained.
The poet and prisoner of conscience Mohammed al-Ajami (also known as Ibn Dheeb) was released on 15 March under an unconditional pardon granted by the Emir. He had been serving a 15-year prison sentence imposed in 2012 for writing and reciting poems deemed offensive to the Emir and the state.
The independent online news outlet Doha News was blocked within Qatar for “licensing issues”. Doha News‘ independent journalism had covered sensitive topics in Qatar, which is likely to have led to their blocking by the two local internet service providers.
Torture and other ill-treatment
On 2 May, the Court of Cassation in the capital, Doha, confirmed the conviction and 15-year prison sentence imposed on Filipino national Ronaldo Lopez Ulep on espionage charges. His conviction in 2014 was largely based on a “confession” in Arabic, a language that he cannot read, with no investigation into his allegation that security officers had forced him to sign the “confession” under torture and other ill-treatment. The Court of Appeal, which reduced his original life sentence to 15 years, and the Court of Cassation also failed to investigate his allegations of torture when upholding his conviction. While in prison, his right to access to his family continued to be violated.
Migrant workers’ rights
Migrant workers, who comprise a large majority of Qatar’s population, continued to face exploitation and abuse. Law No.21 of 2015, which took effect on 13 December 2016, more than a year after its enactment, replaced the 2009 Sponsorship Law, introducing some minor improvements such as the removal of the two-year ban on migrant workers returning to Qatar after leaving. However, it retained key elements of the 2009 law that facilitate serious human rights abuses, including forced labour. Under the new law, migrant workers were still required to obtain an exit permit from their employer to leave Qatar, violating their right to freedom of movement. If workers were blocked from leaving, they could appeal; however, no official guidance on how appeals would be determined was published. The new law also allowed employers to prevent migrant workers from changing their jobs for up to five years, depending on the terms of their contracts, and allowed employers to retain migrant workers’ passports with their written consent, enshrining into law the practice of passport retention which is used by exploitative employers to exert control over migrant workers.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) visited Qatar in March 2016. The high-level delegation assessed measures taken by the government to address issues raised in a complaint filed in relation to violation of the Forced Labour Convention and Labour Inspection Convention. The delegation’s report acknowledged steps taken by the Qatari authorities to address migrant labour abuse but noted many remaining challenges. The ILO governing body deferred its decision on whether to appoint a commission of inquiry on Qatar until March 2017.
The Wage Protection System, which made payment of wages by electronic bank transfer mandatory, was implemented throughout 2016. According to government figures, by November some 1.8 million people were covered by the system. Some migrant workers employed on high-profile construction projects were relocated to the Labor City and Barwa Al Bahara complexes, built by the government to accommodate up to 150,000 low-income migrant workers with better conditions and facilities. A 2010 law effectively prohibiting migrant workers from living in urban residential districts continued to restrict the supply of available housing for migrant workers, thereby exacerbating overcrowding elsewhere and condemning most migrant workers to inadequate living conditions. In April, census data published by the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics indicated that 1.4 million people were living in labour camps.
Domestic workers, mostly women, remained at particular risk of exploitation and abuse as they continued to be excluded from existing labour protections. A long-proposed law to protect domestic workers’ rights continued to be delayed. In July, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee recommended the introduction of a law to protect the human rights of domestic migrant workers and provide them with access to justice for abuses.
In response to evidence that migrant workers had been subjected to abuse while refurbishing the Khalifa International Stadium and surrounding Aspire Zone sporting complex – a 2022 World Cup venue – the government announced in April that the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs would investigate the contractors involved in the abuses. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is responsible for overseeing all 2022 World Cup projects, announced “rectification” programmes for contractors involved in abuses and placed restrictions on future bids for World Cup contracts from a main subcontractor. Some labour supply companies were banned from working on 2022 World Cup projects, including one found to be using forced labour. In November the Supreme Committee signed a year-long agreement with the international trade union Building and Wood Workers’ International to carry out joint inspections of the working and housing conditions of certain migrant construction workers and to publish details of these inspections. The agreement was limited to World Cup projects and did not cover associated infrastructure projects such as highways, rail networks or hotels.
Women continued to face discrimination in law and 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 courts imposed new death sentences and others were confirmed by the Appeals Court; no executions were reported.