'Visitors get into trouble': Brutal Qatar laws threaten World Cup fans

‘Visitors get into trouble’: Brutal Qatar laws threaten World Cup fans

Soccer fans face being thrown behind bars or flogged for minor offenses as they head to Qatar for the World Cup.

Drinking, swearing, taking pictures and even sex can all land people in prison thanks to “vague” and “confusing” laws in the Muslim Gulf state, The Sun reports.

Qatar still has the death penalty – and legal medieval punishments include flogging and stoning, although the latter has never been used.

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About 1.2 million people are expected to travel to Qatar ahead of the tournament, which kicks off on November 20.

Radha Stirling, founder and director of legal aid group Detained in Dubai, which launched an app to help World Cup fans facing problems, warned fans they could get into trouble over trivial issues.

“Qatar has not experienced mass tourism before this year and it is highly likely that visitors will get into trouble, similar to what we have seen in Dubai over the last decade,” she told The Sun.

“It’s hard to advise people to ‘obey the law’ when the laws are so strict that Qatar is telling the police to ‘go easy on the tourists’ during the cup.

“Arbitrary enforcement of the law creates confusion and risk for visitors.

“As in Dubai, people are often singled out when a local Qatari who is ‘offended’ by a visitor files a complaint with the police.

“The police are then required to act on the complaint.”

Don’t expect too much drunken antics. Photo by Gabriel BOUYS/AFPSource: AFP

Due to the vague nature of alcohol laws, patrons could find themselves ticketed for public drunkenness even if they had only had a small drink.

For example, if a drinker is reported to the police for “offending” someone, they will likely be charged with public drunkenness.

Drinking booze in public spaces is also prohibited and could lead to six months in prison or a heavy fine.

People who were caught drinking alcohol were also shot.

Meanwhile, taking pictures without permission, flirting, swearing and arguing could land footie fans in jail.

According to Detained in Dubaithe first person to report the behavior to the police will be taken most seriously, even if it is completely unfair.

In Qatar, same-sex conduct is punishable by up to seven years in prison as it remains a criminal offense under the penal code.

Under Article 296, “leading, inciting or seducing a man in any way to commit sodomy or debauchery” and “inducing or seducing a man or woman in any way to commit illegal or immoral acts” are crimes.

Radha said: “Sex outside of marriage is illegal in Qatar, so couples who book hotel rooms together are already breaking the law, they’re just ‘hoping’ the law won’t be enforced.

“Homosexuality is illegal and those who share a hotel room can be equally at risk.

“Visiting a destination and ‘hoping’ that illegal acts will not be prosecuted puts visitors in a dangerous situation.

“Qatar’s abysmal human rights record means that compliance with the law does not protect visitors from prosecution or unlawful detention.

“Qatar should have been obliged to update the laws to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected this year.”

Fans were warned a week from the start of the tournament. Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFPSource: AFP

Qatar has also been accused of restricting freedom of expression by using harsh laws to suppress voices.

Protesters at the upcoming World Cup could be jailed for five years and fined up to £23,000 ($A40,000) for “inciting public opinion”.

The sentences can be handed out thanks to a vague law passed in 2020 that Amnesty described as “an attack on freedom of expression… (which could silence peaceful protests).

It reads: “Anyone who broadcasts, publishes or republishes false or biased rumours, statements or reports or seditious propaganda, at home or abroad, with the intention of damaging national interests, inciting public opinion or disrupting the social system or public system of the state”.

Meanwhile, female soccer fans risk jail or whipping if they report being sexually assaulted, lawyers have warned.

Figures show football stadiums are becoming hotspots for sexual assault as booze-fuelled crowds flock to big matches during tournaments.

But thousands of fans expected to travel to the Muslim Gulf state in November have been warned they face prosecution if they report the offences.

Qatar’s strict Islamic code prohibits all sexual contact between unmarried couples.

This means that even rape victims can be prosecuted for what the state considers “sex” outside of marriage.

About 100 prosecutions a year were recorded under the strict “zina” laws, which prohibit sex and pregnancy outside of marriage.

Even rape victims have been prosecuted after suspects claimed the sex was consensual – and given sentences ranging from seven years in prison to whipping or caning.

In 2016, a 22-year-old Dutch woman named Laura was convicted of extramarital sex, fined £580 ($1,000) and given a one-year suspended sentence after reporting a brutal rape.

She was drugged in a nightclub in Qatar before being sexually assaulted – but was immediately arrested when she reported the incident.

Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists that it is “one of the safest countries in the world” and that “everyone is welcome and no one is discriminated against”.

We’ll have to see. Photo Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFPSource: AFP

Unlike neighboring Saudi Arabia, women in Qatar have been free to work, drive and hold public office for decades.

And Qatari police and tournament organizers have issued a statement insisting they will not prosecute drunk soccer fans or members of the LGBTQ+ community who show affection.

The document, as seen by the Dutch publication AD, states that women who report sexual assault or rape do not have to fear being prosecuted for adultery or extramarital sex.

Detained in Dubai has launched a new emergency help app for those traveling to the World Cup.

Radha said: “We saw Qatar overreact when a British man was arrested for carrying an unused herb grinder or when he insulted female passengers on board a flight to Australia.

“Female rape victims have been jailed for sex outside of marriage and local prisons are notorious for human rights abuses.

“We’ve launched an app where people can use the chat feature to ask for emergency help or receive warnings and alerts to keep people out of trouble as much as possible.”

In 2019, Conor Howard from Scotland was detained in Doha during a stopover between Australia and the UK for a brand new herb grinder, which the authorities mistook for a “cannabis grinder”.

He was allowed to return home, but months later, when he tried to visit his mother in Corfu, he was arrested by Greek authorities after they were informed of an outstanding arrest warrant issued by Qatar on drug possession charges.

Conor spent about a month in a Greek prison before being released on bail when the court dropped the case due to lack of evidence.

This story first appeared in The Sun and has been republished with permission.

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