Veteran campaigner Tatchell stages first LGBTQ+ public protest in Gulf nation ahead of World Cup

Published by Jon Holmes on

Peter Tatchell posts video message saying he was “arrested and detained” by Qatari police following kerbside protest in Doha, though authorities deny this; 70-year-old was wearing #QatarAntiGay T-shirt and says he was “standing in solidarity with brave Qatari human rights defenders”; Tatchell urges FIFA to “press Qatar much harder to deliver on human rights”

By Jon Holmes

Peter Tatchell put human rights at the heart of a historic one-man protest staged in Qatar’s capital city Doha with less than four weeks to go until the start of World Cup 2022.

Tatchell stood with a placard bearing the slogan ‘Qatar arrests, jails and subjects LGBTs to ‘conversion’ – #QatarAntiGay’ on a busy main road in front of the National Museum of Qatar.

Images of the 70-year-old’s protest – said to be the first to ever be held in Qatar or a Gulf state in support of LGBT+ people – were posted to his personal social media accounts and those of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, with the world’s media directed to a page on the Foundation’s website containing images and information.

Same-sex sexual activity in Qatar is prohibited under the Penal Code 2004, which criminalises acts of ‘sodomy’ and ‘sexual intercourse’ between people of the same sex. Both men and women are criminalised under this law, with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment.

In the build-up to the World Cup, prominent Qatari figures have largely interpreted questions about LGBTQ+ rights by urging visitors to respect the country’s “culture” and “traditions”.

In a Q&A document available via the Foundation webpage, Tatchell responded to a question about “culture” which also asked whether he had a right to “tell anyone how to live”.

“I am not telling anyone how to live,” wrote the veteran campaigner. “I am supporting courageous Qataris who want LGBTs, women and migrant workers to be treated in accordance with international human rights law.

“As a member state of the UN, Qatar is obliged to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is not doing that.”

A video message was later posted by Tatchell in which he described the chain of events that occurred in Doha, a short distance from Stadium 974 where seven World Cup games will be played.

“I stood in front of the National Museum of Qatar on the busy main road with my placard for 35 minutes before state security arrived, followed by police,” explained Tatchell in a statement sent to media outlets.

“I was arrested and detained on the kerbside for 49 minutes. There were a total of nine officers surrounding and interrogating me about where I was from, who was helping me, where I was staying and when I was leaving Qatar.

“Officers also arrested my colleague, Simon Harris, from the Peter Tatchell Foundation, who was filming and photographing me. The police took Simon’s phone and deleted all his photos and videos – but only after he had already sent them to London.

“This was the first LGBT+ public protest in Qatar or any Gulf nation. I did this protest to highlight Qatar’s abuse of LGBT, women’s and migrant workers rights.

“I was standing in solidarity with brave Qatari human rights defenders who cannot make their voices heard because of the risk of arrest, jail and torture.”

Video footage of the incident in Doha involving Peter Tatchell was also posted to social media by the Foundation

However, in a statement issued by its communications office, the Qatari government disputed claims of any arrests having been made over the incident.

“Rumours on social media that a representative from the Peter Tatchell Foundation has been arrested in Qatar are completely false and without merit,” read the statement.

“An individual standing in a traffic roundabout was cordially and professionally asked to move to the sidewalk, no arrests were made.

“We are extremely disappointed to see baseless accusations being freely reported by media outlets, without facts.

“Many organisations will use increased media attention on Qatar ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to promote their own profiles. We are always open to dialogue with entities that wish to discuss important topics, but spreading false information with the deliberate intention of provoking negative responses is irresponsible and unacceptable.”

Reporting by Reuters said that police officers who engaged with Tatchell at the scene “folded up his placard and took photos of Tatchell’s passport and other papers, and those of a man accompanying him.

“Police left after shaking hands with Tatchell, who remained on the sidewalk.”

Speaking on LBC Radio later on Tuesday, Tatchell responded to the Qatari government statement by insisting that he was not allowed to leave during the period of his encounter with the police officers and that he was interrogated, which in his view constituted arrest and detention.

On the first day of the 2018 World Cup, Tatchell staged a one-man protest in Red Square in Moscow, holding a placard which read ‘Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people’. He was taken away by Russian police to a local police station and released shortly afterwards on bail.

His appearance in Doha comes a day after Human Rights Watch released a report titled ‘Qatar: Security Forces Arrest, Abuse LGBT People’ which contained claims of discrimination and ill-treatment meted out to six Qatari citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Meanwhile, in the Q&A document made available via which links to the Foundation’s website, Tatchell also sent a message to world football’s governing body.

“FIFA must press Qatar much harder to deliver on human rights,” he said. “It is letting Qatar get away with evading many of its pledges when it was granted the right to hold the World Cup.”

In October 2019, FIFA published a Sustainability Strategy document on World Cup 2022 with details of 22 objectives. The Social Pillar section references how in May 2018, Qatar had “reaffirmed its commitment to human rights through the ratification of two core United Nations human rights treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

The first of those treaties includes Article 17 – the right to privacy – which states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Meanwhile, Article 26 reads: “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

In a landmark piece of UN legislation in 1994, its Human Rights Committee determined in a case known as Toonen vs. Australia that the word “sex” in Article 26 should be taken as including sexual orientation.

The case centred on a gay man in Tasmania called Nicholas Toonen who claimed the state’s laws, which at the time criminalised consensual sex between adult males, were a violation of his right to privacy under the Covenant.

The Committee found in his favour and gave an opinion that the laws should be repealed. The Australian government introduced a federal act that legalised sexual activity between consenting adults throughout the nation and prohibited the making of laws that arbitrarily interfered with the sexual conduct of adults in private.

In his Q&A, Tatchell adds: “In 2016, FIFA adopted the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which require it to “avoid infringing on the human rights of others and address adverse human rights impacts. The UN must press Qatar to honour those principles.”

Further reading – ‘World Mental Health Day is way in to talk about being LGBTQ+ in Qatar – is football listening?

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Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor