Qatari law further erodes free expression: Amnesty

Amnesty International warned the provisions could be used to "silence peaceful critics." 
Tuesday 21/01/2020
A handout picture provided by the official website of the Iranian Presidency on January 12, 2020 shows Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani speaking during a joint press conference with the Iranian president in Tehran. (AFP)
A handout picture provided by the official website of the Iranian Presidency on January 12, 2020 shows Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani speaking during a joint press conference with the Iranian president in Tehran. (AFP)

TUNIS - Rights organisations are sounding the alarm about a new Qatari law they say could undermine freedom of expression in the Gulf emirate.

The new legislation, signed off on by Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, allows for the imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 Qatari riyals ($27,000) for those who broadcast, publish or re-publish “false or biased rumours, statements, or news, or inflammatory propaganda, domestically or abroad, with the intent to harm national interests, stir up public opinion, or infringe on the social system or the public system of the state.”

Penalties “will be increased if the crime is committed during wartime,” said the text published in the country’s official gazette.

Rights group Amnesty International criticised the law’s broad provisions as "a bitter blow to freedom of expression" and warned it could be used to "silence peaceful critics." 

Lynn Maalouf, research director for the Middle East at Amnesty International, added that the move “signals a worrying regression from commitments made two years ago to guarantee the right to freedom of expression.”

“Qatar already has a host of repressive laws, but this new legislation deals another bitter blow to freedom of expression in the country and is a blatant breach of international human rights law,” Maalouf said. “It is deeply troubling that the Qatari Emir is passing legislation that can be used to silence peaceful critics. Qatar’s authorities should be repealing such laws, in line with their international legal obligations, not adding more of them.”

The Gulf monarchy’s human rights record has come under increased scrutiny as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. At least 1,000 migrant workers have reportedly died building World Cup facilities, with their deaths rarely investigated thoroughly by authorities and their families left without compensation, according to rights groups.

In October, Qatar announced it was ending a controversial visa restriction that required migrant workers to receive permission from their employers’ to leave the country, but Human Rights Watch said other restrictive elements of the kafala (sponsorship) system remained in tact.

“The reforms introduced over the past three years, while positive, have not gone far enough,” said Human Rights Watch,” adding that it “continues to document abuse and exploitation of migrant workers facilitated by the kafala system.”