Protesters at the 2022 World Cup could face a five-year prison sentence under Qatar’s Penal Code for “stirring up public opinion,” according to The Athletic.
The regulation, which was reinforced in January 2020, raises questions about whether spectators will be able to express themselves freely during the upcoming competition.
The “vague” phrasing of the bill, according to Amnesty International, “may stifle peaceful dissent,” according to The Athletic.
In recent months, environmental protesters have disrupted a number of sporting events across the country.
In March, an activist from Derniere Renovation tied herself to the net during the French Open semi-final between Casper Ruud and Marin Cilic, causing delays at many Premier League games.
Qatar’s gross domestic product is 60 percent oil and gas exports (GDP). In February, QatarEnergy, a state-owned oil business, was appointed an official partner of the World Cup.
Furthermore, migrant construction workers have reported several human rights violations in the run-up to the competition. According to The Guardian, over the last ten years, 6,500 migrant laborers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka have died.
However, a legal amendment announced by the Emir of Qatar in the January 2020 Official Gazette could restrict demonstrators’ freedom of expression.
Article 136 states those affected by the new law includes: “Anyone who broadcasts, publishes, or republishes 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.”
Offenders face a maximum term of five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 Qatari riyals (about $25,000).
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both criticised the law.
May Romanos, Gulf Researcher at Amnesty International, told The Athletic, “The Penal Code was altered to incorporate more imprecise wording, which could be perceived as an attack on freedom of expression.”
“Anything that is deemed to threaten the national interest, affect public opinion, or intrude on the social structure is considered a national security threat.” Anything could fall under this. It’s a catch-all which deters freedom of expression.
“It could be used to silence peaceful critiques, or people expressing their right to freedom of expression, even online. This is in addition to the regular laws that they have, including the cyber crime law, which is already repressive.”
The Athletic has spoken to several protest groups who have ruled out activism during the World Cup owing to the severity of these laws.
In June 2018, Qatar signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as part of the country’s bid to improve its human rights record ahead of the World Cup.
The United Nations Human Right Committee, who interpret the agreement, claim that member states must ensure those subject to freedom of expression laws fully understand what is prohibited, and also call for “proportionate” punishment.
“We continue to call on Qatar to respect people’s freedom of expression,” Amnesty told The Athletic. “That’s a key pillar of international obligations that Qatar committed to, they signed international treaties, they said they will abide by international human rights law, which includes the right to freedom of expression.
“We will continue to call on Qatar to actually uphold these rights and obligations.”
A FIFA spokesperson told The Athletic that the body supports peaceful protest in line with the regulations, and they have set up a Human Rights Grievance Mechanism to report any breaches.
But when asked directly they could not guarantee the safety of peaceful protesters in the country.
They told The Athletic: “FIFA defends the principles of freedom of expression and is committed to ensuring that anyone attending FIFA events has their rights upheld.
“With respect to the legislative protections in place during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, specific legislation has been passed with the aim to ensure a safe tournament environment for everyone, in line with FIFA’s requirements applicable to all hosts of its competitions.
“This includes ensuring that fans and everyone else involved in the tournament will be safe from undue restrictions to their personal freedoms and a wide-ranging programme has been implemented over the past years to train security personnel in the application of these standards.”
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy did not offer comment when contacted by The Athletic.
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