The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Qatar continues to mistreat LGBT people before World Cup, rights group says

Qatar has repeatedly faced accusations of repressing sexual minorities ahead of next month’s World Cup, to be hosted in Doha. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

Qatari officials have arbitrarily arrested and mistreated LGBT people, in some cases as recently as last month, Human Rights Watch said Monday in a report that comes less than four weeks before the Gulf nation hosts the 2022 soccer World Cup.

The New York-based group said it had documented “six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment” by Qatari authorities between 2019 and 2022. Human Rights Watch said it had talked to four transgender women, one bisexual woman and one gay man who were all held in an underground prison in Doha.

“All were detained without charge, in one case for two months in solitary confinement, without access to legal counsel,” the report said. “None received any record of having been detained. These acts could constitute arbitrary detention under international human rights law.”

The Washington Post could not immediately verify the accounts from the report. But it adds to concerns expressed by rights groups and soccer players about the safety of LGBT people attending next month’s World Cup.

Qatari law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual acts between men, but doesn’t explicitly prohibit them for women, according to the 2021 U.S. State Department human rights report. Same-sex relations between men can land them in prison for up to seven years.

In an emailed statement, a Qatari government spokesman disputed the allegations, saying the report had “information that is categorically and unequivocally false” and that the country “does not tolerate discrimination against anyone.”

Is Qatar ready to host the World Cup?

The people interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were slapped, kicked and punched while in custody. At least one woman said she had lost consciousness. Members of Qatar’s Preventive Security Department, an agency under the country’s Interior Ministry, forced all six to sign pledges to “cease immoral activity.”

One of the transgender women told Human Rights Watch that she had been arrested on the street in Doha, and accused of “imitating women.” Once inside a police vehicle, authorities beat her, bloodying her lips and nose, and kicking her in the stomach. One of the authorities told her that “You gays are immoral, so we will be the same to you,” according to the report.

“I was detained for three weeks without charge, and officers repeatedly sexually harassed me,” she said. “Part of the release requirement was attending sessions with a psychologist who ‘would make me a man again.’”

The woman also reported seeing at least seven other LGBT people locked up in the same underground prison.

Today's WorldView: The political debate swirling around the World Cup in Qatar

A second transgender woman said she was arrested for wearing makeup. Authorities shaved her hair, and asked her to sign a vow that she would never wear makeup again as a condition of her release, she said. Transgender women were required to receive “conversion therapy” at government-sponsored centers, the report said.

Human Rights Watch said the arbitrary arrests of the people interviewed appeared to be based on a law that allows provisional detention if “there exist well-founded reasons to believe that the defendant may have committed a crime,” including “violating public morality.”

Qatar has faced pressure from foreign officials, soccer players and FIFA over its stance toward LGBT people in the lead-up to the World Cup, which begins Nov. 20. Qatari officials have said that everyone is welcome to attend, regardless of their background — but with caveats such as respecting the country’s culture.

Last month, participants at a human rights congress hosted by the German soccer federation urged the Qatari ambassador to Berlin to abolish penalties for homosexuality in Qatar, the Associated Press reported. Josh Cavallo, an Australian soccer player who came out as gay last year, has expressed concerns about the country’s homophobic laws. In March, 16 LGBT groups urged Qatar to repeal those laws, among other demands.

Top U.K. diplomat tells LGBT World Cup fans to ‘be respectful’ in Qatar

FIFA has pushed Doha to host an inclusive tournament, and fans will be allowed to fly the rainbow-colored LGBT flag during matches after Qatar said it would comply with the soccer body’s rules promoting tolerance and inclusion, according to reports in 2020. But in March, a Qatari official warned that law enforcement officials could take away rainbow flags from fans to “protect” them from being attacked by locals who could be angered by their support, the Associated Press reported.

In a separate statement to The Post, FIFA said Qatar “is fully aware” of its duty as the World Cup host of prohibiting “discrimination of any kind on account of sexual orientation.” FIFA and Qatari officials are aiming to provide human rights training sessions to public and private security forces in Qatar, among other measures aimed at preventing discrimination against sexual minorities, it said.