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  • Writer's pictureDue Process International

FIFA World Cup Travel Warning: Women & LGBT+ risk jail or flogging

Updated: May 12

Qatar hides behind facade that a 'blind eye' will be turned during world cup. This puts people at greater risk, experts warn.

FEMALE and LGBT+ England fans risk serious consequences at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar if they report being the victim of a sex attack, committing ‘open displays of affection’ or are seen as being drunk in public, experts have warned.

An inevitable mix of rowdy crowds in packed stadiums and excessive alcohol consumption increase the statistics for sexual assault. But thousands of women and LGBT fans expected to travel to the Gulf State in November have been warned they face prosecution if they report such offences. Qatar’s draconian Islamic laws outlaw any sexual contact between unmarried couples making it an offence even if the victim has not consented to such acts.

In a country internationally renowned for its catalogue of human rights abuses, it’s no surprise that women are treated less equally than men and are routinely abused, arbitrarily imprisoned and even flogged for minor infractions and perceived “offences”. This remains a risk for female visitors travelling to Doha for the World Cup in November.

Reports show that for example, around 100 expat women are arrested every year and jailed in Qatar for giving birth to a baby out of wedlock. This is commonly the case for many third country nationals who are often raped and abused by their male Qatari sponsors, frequently resulting in pregnancy.

Extra-marital sex and adultery are illegal under Qatari law and giving birth to an illegitimate baby usually results in a 12-month jail sentence. Many unmarried women who find themselves in such a predicament leave the country to avoid prosecution, some stay hoping that they will not get in trouble with the authorities. Others are unable to leave because their sponsor will not give them an exit permit. In such instances, a Qatari male’s word carries more legal weight than that of a woman meaning that there is little or no justice for ‘foreign’ female victims of such sexual abuse.

Moreover, the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system denies women the right to make many key decisions about their lives.

In 2016, a Dutch woman, 22, who alleged she was brutally raped after being drugged in a nightclub in Doha was convicted of having sex out of wedlock by a Qatari court. She was fined and given a one-year suspended sentence under the strict “Zina” laws, banning sex and pregnancy outside of marriage.

The woman, who visited Doha as a tourist, was eventually ordered to be deported to the Netherlands. The woman said she was drugged during a party at a nightclub in a Doha hotel and woke up in an unknown apartment when she realised she had been sexually assaulted. She reported the incident to Qatari police and was subsequently arrested on charges of committing illicit sex acts. The one-year suspended sentence was described as “lenient”, according to a statement released by court officials. “Had she been a Muslim woman, she would have received at least five years in jail. No one can get out of such charges here in Qatar,” they said.

Rape victims have often been prosecuted after male suspects claimed that the sex was consensual - and have been handed sentences ranging from seven years jail, to flogging with a whip or stick.

Qatar was forced to respond to outrage at the treatment of female victims onboard a flight from Doha to Sydney where authorities were accused of sexual assault after forcing female passengers to strip.

Visitors are also warned about drinking alcohol - especially in public areas. While drinking alcohol at public sporting events is socially acceptable in most western countries, drinking alcohol during the games in Qatar, a “Tier-2” alcohol consumption Muslim country, (meaning ‘Dry’ for Muslims, but non-Muslims may purchase alcoholic beverages in a limited number of establishments), sets the stage for significantly increased risks.

Detained in Doha founder, Radha Stirling cautions that rules on alcohol are very confusing for most Western visitors in the Gulf, “Most people think that if they follow the rules with regards to purchasing and consuming alcohol, they will be fine. But the most dangerous aspect of the law has to do with intoxication. It is not allowed to be publicly intoxicated in Qatar, and Qatar has no legally prescribed blood-alcohol level to define drunkenness. In terms of the law, anyone who drinks a single beer before or after a match, will be vulnerable to arrest and prosecution the moment they leave the venue.”

Qatar’s World Cup chief, Nasser Al Khater, said Thursday that “There will be special ‘sobering-up zones’ at the tournament for drunk fans” but Stirling says, “With Qatar portraying tolerance during the event, visitors will be lured into a false sense of security”.

Qatar has also been under criticism for its anti-LGBT+ laws. The country doesn’t recognise same-sex partnerships and they are deemed illegal.

However, FIFA is confident that persons identifying as LGBT+ will not face any consequences and Qatar’s supreme committee, which oversees the whole World Cup, denies local laws on such would be an issue in this case.

Stirling confirmed “Members of the LGBT community have already been denied rooms at hotels and care should be taken to hide their sexual orientation. Homosexuality is illegal and the penalties can be severe across the entire Middle East.

“Care should be taken to delete any explicit photographs or videos before travel as these can also lead to arrest if discovered”.

Peter Tatchell called on FIFA to cancel the World Cup in Qatar when in 2013 GCC member countries announced new plans to “detect” and ban gay people from entering their countries. Meanwhile, David Beckham, the face of Qatar22, blocked an LGBT campaigner from social media

Ultimately, Qatar is set to receive thousands of diverse foreign visitors when it hosts the 2022 football World Cup in November.


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