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QATAR 2021

Despite government reforms, migrant workers continued to face labour abuses and struggled to change jobs freely. Curtailment of freedom of expression increased in the run-up to FIFA World Cup 2022. Women and LGBTI people continued to face discrimination in law and practice.


The Gulf diplomatic crisis that started in 2017, pitting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt against Qatar, ended in January.

In July, the emir ratified a law paving the way for the first legislative elections of the Shura Council (Consultative Assembly) to elect 30 of its 45 members. However, the law excluded Qataris whose grandfathers were not born in Qatar from voting or standing for election on the basis of the discriminatory nationality law. The election was held on 2 October. No women were elected.

In October, the emir reshuffled the cabinet and demerged some ministries.

Covid-19 vaccines were made available to all citizens and residents aged 12 and above without discrimination, including foreign residents. By October, 77% of the population had been fully vaccinated.

Migrant workers’ rights

Despite its stated commitment, the government failed to implement and enforce reforms, enabling abusive practices to resurface and reviving the worst elements of kafala (the sponsorship-based employment system).

Migrant workers continued to face sometimes insurmountable bureaucratic barriers and requirements when seeking to change jobs without the permission of their employers, even though permission was no longer a legal requirement. In December, the government reported that 242,870 migrant workers had been able to change jobs following the reforms in September 2020; however, it did not report how many workers managed to do so without securing the permission of their employer – information that is key to measuring progress.

The situation remained even more difficult for live-in women domestic workers on account of their isolation in their employer’s house, which is also their workplace.

The system continued to yield powers to employers who oversee the entry and residence of migrant workers in Qatar, enabling abusive employers to cancel residency permits or file cases accusing their employee of absconding, jeopardizing migrant workers’ legal presence in the country.

In May, the Ministry of Labour launched a digital platform intended to enable workers to submit complaints.

Despite the introduction of a new minimum wage, as well as measures to monitor payment of wages, migrant workers continued to fall victim to wage theft by their employers without effective recourse to justice. Indeed, access to justice for migrant workers remained largely slow and, when it did occur, did not often lead to an effective remedy. The support fund set up to help workers recoup their money if they win their cases before the Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes worked on an ad hoc basis and it remained unclear to workers if and when they could collect their unpaid wages from the fund.1

In April, workers from a company supplying security guards went on strike to protest against their employer’s failure to honour the new minimum wage. State-aligned media reported that the government had investigated and found the company’s pay did meet the legal requirement. The authorities continued to fail to investigate properly the deaths of migrant workers, thousands of whom have died suddenly and unexpectedly in Qatar in the past decade despite passing mandatory medical tests before travelling to the country. This failure, which precluded any assessment of whether the deaths were work-related, meant Qatar failed to protect a core element of the right to life. It also denied the workers’ bereaved families the opportunity to receive compensation from the employer or authorities.2

Trade union rights

Migrant workers continued to be barred from forming or joining trade unions. Instead, authorities introduced joint committees, an initiative led by employers to allow workers’ representation. The initiative fell far short of the fundamental right of workers to form and join trade unions.

Freedom of expression and assembly

Authorities continued to curtail freedom of expression using abusive laws to stifle critical voices.

On 4 May, authorities forcibly disappeared Malcolm Bidali, a Kenyan security guard, blogger and migrant workers’ rights activist. They held him in solitary confinement for a month and denied him access to legal counsel. On 14 July, the Supreme Judiciary Council fined him under the controversial cybercrime law for publishing false news with the intent of endangering the public system of the state. The criminal order was passed without Malcolm Bidali being formally charged, brought before a court or informed of the criminal charges he faced. He left Qatar on 16 August after paying the heavy fine.3

In early August, members of tribes, mainly the al-Murra tribe, protested against their exclusion from the Shura Council elections. On 8 August, the Interior Ministry stated that seven men had been arrested and referred to the public prosecution, accused of “using social media to spread false news and stir up racial and tribal strife”. Some were released but others remained in detention without access to their lawyers.

In November, two Norwegian journalists investigating the situation of migrant workers were detained for trespassing and filming on private property, accusations the journalists refuted. They were questioned about their reporting and had all their equipment confiscated. They were released 36 hours later without facing any legal charges.

Earlier in their trip, the two journalists had been due to interview Abdullah Ibhais, the former communications director for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organizers, but he was arrested on 15 November hours before the planned interview. His arbitrary detention came while he was appealing a five-year prison sentence handed down after an unfair trial based on a “confession” that was extracted under duress, and which he made without a lawyer present.4 On 15 December, a court rejected his appeal and sentenced him to three years in prison.

Women’s rights

Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice. Under the guardianship system, women remained tied to their male guardian, usually their father, brother, grandfather or uncle, or for married women, to their husband. Women continued to need their guardian’s permission for key life decisions to marry, study abroad on government scholarships, work in many government jobs, travel abroad until certain ages, and receive some forms of reproductive healthcare.

Family laws continued to discriminate against women by making it difficult for them to divorce. Divorced women remained unable to act as their children’s guardian.

In March, the government disputed the findings of a Human Rights Watch report on discrimination against women in Qatar, and pledged to investigate and prosecute anyone who had breached the law. By the end of the year, no such investigations had taken place.

Noof al-Maadeed, a 23-year-old Qatari woman who sought asylum in the UK citing family abuse, decided to return to Qatar after seeking reassurances from the authorities. She started documenting her journey on social media but was last heard from on 13 October after she reported threats from her family to the police. Despite reassurances from the authorities that she was safe, her whereabouts remained unknown, raising fears about her safety.

LGBTI people’s rights

“Sodomy” or same-sex sexual conduct between men remained an offence under the Penal Code, punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment. Article 296 states that “leading, instigating or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy or dissipation” and “inducing or seducing a male or a female in any way to commit illegal or immoral actions” is a crime.

In February, Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese rock band whose lead singer is openly gay, cancelled its planned appearance at Northwestern University’s Doha campus for “safety concerns” after an anti-gay online backlash.

Death penalty

In February, the emir halted the execution of a Tunisian man convicted of murder. No execution was reported.

  1. Reality Check 2021: A Year to the 2022 World Cup, the State of Migrant Workers’ Rights in Qatar (Index: MDE 22/4966/2021), 16 November
  2. “In the Prime of Their Lives”: Qatar’s Failure to Investigate, Remedy and Prevent Migrant Workers’ Deaths (Index: MDE 22/4614/2021), 26 August
  3. Joint Statement: Kenyan Labour Rights Activist Leaves Qatar After Paying Hefty Fine for Publishing “False News” (Index: MDE 22/4626/2021), 19 August
  4. “Qatar: Ensure fair trial for Abdullah Ibhais”, 19 November